It was a day in April. Pretty day. Cool day. Down in the mountains, they had snow flurries.
For some reason or other, my son was home from high school and we decided to run out to a favorite lunch spot for a bite to eat together. Just as I left the house, I heard there had been a shooting at Virginia Tech. Like so much news, it registered on my consciousness for a flash and was gone.
By the time we reached the restaurant, the full story was being reported.
I lost my appetite.
That day, I wrote this blog post and want to share it with you this week, in remembrance:
I am an alumna of Virginia Tech. Class of ’82. When it came time to apply to college, I had no idea about safety schools or applying to a bunch… frankly, I had no clue about college admissions and I didn’t work the system. I applied to Tech, William & Mary and UVa. I was accepted at the first two and waitlisted at the third.
But I chose Tech because of the campus. The majority of the buildings are constructed of “Hokie Stone”, a gray-blue granite quarried locally. I was utterly smitten with Hokie Stone. On pretty days, the stone reflected the breathtaking blue of the mountain sky. On gray days, the stone embodied the resolute, iron-strong values of the university.
And I came to love the school’s Latin motto “Ut Prosim”, “That I might serve.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Ut Prosim as the stories around the Blacksburg tragedy began to unfold. I was reminded of Ut Prosim as I heard the story of the Eagle Scout, shot through the upper thigh, bleeding from a wound to his femoral artery. This young man made a makeshift tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. Then, he moved around to his wounded and dying classmates, administering what first aid he could. Ut Prosim.
I thought Ut Prosim when I watched Tech President and alumni Charlie Steger conduct press briefing after press briefing, always clear, always calm, always thoughtful. I can only imagine what his presence meant to the students and parents he undoubtedly met with privately. His strong leadership and consistent commitment to openness and candor set the tone for the Virginia Tech emergency services team as well as the administration. Ut Prosim.
But nowhere was Ut Prosim more evident than in the heroism of Liviu Librescu, a 76 year old professor and Holocaust survivor who used his own body to block the door of his classroom to the shooter. I imagine Professor Librescu knew exactly the pain of losing dear ones to violence. I think he knew the sweetness of living life after having survived catastrophe. I can almost hear him urging his students out the window, “Go, go!”, urgency in his voice, as he gave his life so others would live. Ut Prosim.
Renowned poet Nikki Giovanni came to Virginia Tech in 1987, after I left. I recall seeing news about her appointment and being proud of my alma mater for inviting a poet of her reputation and stature to the community – a community better known for its engineering and architecture than its poetry.
In lyric remarks at the Convocation, Nikki Giovanni used the phrase “We are Virginia Tech” to punctuate her prose poem. It was inspiring. It was encompassing. It was what we needed to hear.
We are Virginia Tech. And now you are Virginia Tech. We are Ut Prosim. And you are Ut Prosim, too. Finding ways to serve – ways both big and small, heroic and humdrum – is incumbent upon all of us. It’s how we can honor those who have fallen, and begin to reach out to those in our community who need our help.
Poet Nikki Giovanni said it best:
“We are Virginia Tech.
“The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
“We are the Hokies.
“We will prevail.
“We will prevail.
“We will prevail.
“We are Virginia Tech.”
Let’s remember. Let’s learn. Let’s make it impossible for it to ever happen again.