BLACKSBURG, Va., April 16, 2008 – A beloved son who built computers and loved all types of music, but jazz most of all.
A devoted mother, wife, and teacher with an infectious joy for life.
A much-loved daughter who rode horses, loved to cook, insisted on fairness, and dreamed of being a veterinarian.
A dedicated father, committed to his family living both in Blacksburg and abroad, who was also one of this country’s most renowned experts in his field.
The special qualities of the 32 members of the university community killed a year ago today were read aloud in a ceremony attended by thousands on the Virginia Tech Drillfield. Heads bowed, members of the crowd listened, silent, except for occasional coughs and frequent sniffles.
In opening remarks at the first of the university’s two official Day of Remembrance events, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said the memory of what happened here still hurts, but the character of those who were lost, the grace and strength of their families in facing such tragedy, and the courage of others who are continuing to heal both physically and emotionally is a source of inspiration.
“It is our hope that the remembrances of each victim will provide families, and a community that still grieves with them, a cherished glimpse of the loved ones who will remain forever in our hearts,” Steger said shortly before the 32 statements of remembrance were read. “On this solemn day of remembrance, and all those to follow, let us remember our loved ones and challenge ourselves to continue our personal journey to live meaningful lives, to embrace the future with hope and a sense of purpose, and to reach our highest promise.”
Steger spoke in front of Burruss Hall, with the Commonwealth of Virginia flag flying at half mast behind him. Gov. Tim Kaine, who ordered that the flag be lowered for the day, also spoke at the ceremony.
Kaine said that the 32 exemplified the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
The governor said they understood “that in order to be fully human, in order to be full Hokies and live the mission of this university, they needed to live their lives in way that would touch others. This is a fitting memorial in commemoration today. … But the best memorial is just to live that mission.”
Following Kaine’s remarks, a majority of the crowd slowly left the Drillfield. But some people gathered in small groups to talk and comfort each other, while many others lined up to file past the university’s April 16 memorial -- a semicircle of 32 Hokie Stones, each bearing one name.
University officials, with input from several members of victims’ families, decided the day should offer an opportunity for quiet and respectful reflection on the Drillfield so, except for the morning ceremony and an 8:15 p.m. candlelight vigil, other events to mark the day on campus were scheduled elsewhere.
A good number of those events were in Squires Student Center, including a Perspective Gallery exhibit of news photographs and video related to the tragedy. The gallery, which can hold more than 100 patrons at any given time, had a line stretching more than 100 feet out the door at 3 p.m. An usher said the line was even longer earlier and people had been coming in nonstop since the morning ceremony ended.
Not far away, in Squires’ Commonwealth Ballroom, visitors wrote messages of remembrance on tables covered in white paper for that purpose.
“Our hearts are broken,” read one message. “But let us remember the lives of those lost and not only the final moments. May they live on in our minds and hearts forever.”
On the other end of campus some visitors sat quietly or strolled on their own through the Hahn Horticulture Garden, while others participated in special tours of the garden arranged for the day. Those tours included a pause at a patio under construction, which will be named for Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, an avid gardener who was among those lost a year ago.
Nearby, Lisa Sherman of Springfield, a marketing major in the Pamplin College of Business whose sister Leslie was among those killed, threw out the first pitch of a doubleheader against Liberty University at Tech Softball Park. “4-16-07” was written just below the school logo on the pitching mound.
In a gesture of support, Liberty’s players wore orange and maroon ribbons in their hair. They also presented the Hokies with handwritten cards and white carnations before the game.
Thousands assembled on the Drillfield again at dusk, where a candlelight vigil began at 8:15.
Throughout the day, numerous reporters were among those going from event to event on campus, a reflection of how the events of April 16, 2007, moved people worldwide. The president and Mrs. Bush, who visited the university on April 17 last year, today issued a statement that read, in part:
“We join our fellow Americans in praying for the families and friends whose hearts ache for their lost loved ones. We continue to be amazed by the extraordinary Hokie spirit and inspired by the survivors of this tragedy. Students, teachers, and alumni have overcome evil with good by supporting each other with love and compassion. We are humbled by their resilience and confident in the university's bright future.”