Once again, I am stranded at school working on a paper. I am going to substitute an original post with something I wrote two years ago following the tragedy at my school, Virginia Tech. This was posted on the Bright Idea Outdoors Weblog shortly following the tragedy, but I'll go ahead and post it now that I have my own blog. Hopefully I will have a turkey story to write about on the 16th. Side note... I was home last year on the 16th and bagged my first gobbler that morning at about the same time the shootings had started the year before. I'll always remember dropping to my knees to thank God for the bird and to pray for those that had lost their lives at that moment the year before...
Candlelight on the Drill Field
April 17, 2006
Seven-thirty p.m. passed and my roommate and some friends were on our way to The Drill Field, the heart of the Virginia Tech campus. The mood during the two minute ride from my apartment to campus was not terribly somber, as my friends and I discussed the afternoon’s Convocation ceremony, as well as the media hype, and political repercussions that the previous day’s events will have on the state of Virginia, as well as the United States. There was even some laughing and joking, as well as discussion of music on the radio. Not until we had exited the car and walked across the giant Price’s Fork Road parking lot did all the feelings that go with such a tragedy begin to sink in to the small group I was a part of. At this moment we reached the stairs that led from the parking lot upwards towards the academic buildings on the Southwest side of campus.
Here we were handed candles for the imminent vigil, and we began the march up the stairs towards the Drill Field. Inadvertently we had taken a set of stairs the led past the side of Norris Hall, the site of 31 deaths the day before. Hoards of state police were present, and a mobile crime lab van was backed up to double doors that led into the building. The area from the edge of the path, all the way around Norris was encircled by yellow crime scene tape. As we reached the crest of the stairs and the ground leveled out we could begin to see the Drill Field, and the thousands already gathered to mourn the lives of those lost.
We found a spot on the edge of the crowd to the right of Burruss Hall, and waited for the vigil to begin. As the sun set, our small group was quickly surrounded as the mourners kept filing into the vigil. The ceremony began and the candles were lit, and sobs were soon audible to me as the speakers for the evening delivered the messages of hope and remembrance. All aspects of this scene touched me, but there are a few moments that I will carry in my heart forever.
The first moment was when a bugler played Taps, and the somber tones of the bugle were echoed off the buildings from across campus. The next moment was when I actually realized the amount of people that had turned out to mourn. I became cognizant of the mass of people that were really there because I noticed that the front of Burruss Hall was illuminated by the light of candles, nothing else. The ceremony was officially over but the crowd stayed, and in the moments that followed, I had a moment that truly touched me. From somewhere in the crowd, baritone voices began to sing “Amazing Grace,” and as I lifted my head to the sky to pray, I noticed the lit windows of a corner of Norris Hall. Lit in that window were the silhouettes of law enforcement, obviously investigating the crime scene. This is when the tragedy truly hit home for me, because I realized how surreal it was that 31 people had died a hundred steps from me, and that the killer had likely walked the very path I was standing on as he made his way to Norris Hall.
A female friend in our group began to cry, and as the cheers of “Let’s go…Hokies” filled the air, our group prepared to leave. Until this point I had felt like a person on the fringe of becoming a Hokie. I will be attending the school in the fall, but at many games, gatherings, and other campus events I had felt like an outsider. Now, sharing this moment with the whole Tech community, I was aware that the solidarity and strength displayed at this vigil were the real reasons I was drawn to become a student here. Then, just for a second, I shed a few tears, a half dozen at the most. To me, these tears signified that although unofficially a Hokie, I am already one at heart.
I will always remember this candlelight vigil as a moment in my life that will always be my first true memory of being a Hokie. Most importantly it was a moment for the Tech community to come together and unite. I will never forget the silence of forty thousand Hokies, or the light from forty thousand candles on the Drill Field, and I will never forget the variety of feelings that came over me as I stood honoring those lost on April 16th. I doubt anyone else at the candlelight vigil will ever forget this event, and to me, that means the vigil was a success. This is because the memories we have from the vigil are really the memories we will have of those lost in this horrible tragedy, and in turn those lost will never be forgotten.