For those of you who don't know, I'm from a small town in Southwest Virginia, just a few minutes down the road from Virginia Tech--a place otherwise known as Hokie country. Regardless of your affiliation with Virginia Tech or the Blacksburg area, you're probably well aware of what happened five years ago today, and how that horrible day changed the lives of so many in the blink of an eye.
What you may not know, however, is the scale of Virginia Tech's community and the strength that lives not just in people affiliated with the university, but with anyone and everyone who has ever been fortunate enough to call this area home.
I still remember that Monday morning like it was yesterday. I was a college student at the time, not at Tech, but just down the road at Radford University. The amount of pure shock, heartache, fear, and confusion were overwhelming that day, and looking back at it now, I still have trouble fathoming that it actually happened right there. Where I had grown up, where everyone knew one another, where everything had always been so normal.
The following days with news crews and visitors from everywhere was insane . . . and I'll never get over watching everything that happened just 10 or 15 minutes from home on the same broadcasts that were being transmitted all over the country--or all over the world, even.
But you know what? Something beautiful grew out of that fear, out of the confusion, out of the pain. Our community came together like no other within the next few days, and the strength and camaraderie that echoed through the Hokie nation has grown stronger over the years. To this day, I have never seen another university that even comes close to mirroring the school spirit that Virginia Tech presents to the world. It's the absolute definition of unity.
Today, I clicked on a link from ABC News, headlining the five-year anniversary of April 16th, 2007. And what I saw when I opened the article--a photo slideshow of everything from that day that no one wants to remember--made me sick. I had to close the browser window to keep from feeling upset.
The truth is that there were, indeed, so many wonderful people who were separated from Earth on that day. But the bad stuff is what strangers think of--people who don't have any other images of the VT community to draw up.
I see it differently.
When I think of Virginia Tech, I think of serenity. I think of the way the Blue Ridge rolls in the background, the art shop where my sister buys painting supplies, and my mom taking me to Squires every Tuesday afternoon when I was in eighth grade for my clarinet lessons. I think of football games, driving downtown with friends during my lunch break, and cheap movies on campus on Friday nights. I think of how proud I was when my fiance walked across the stage in Cassell Coliseum in his cap and gown, and how we posed for photos at the Duck Pond one week later on the day we were married.
I suppose it comes with the territory, but I love my hometown, blemishes and all. And I know there are thousands of others who wouldn't hesitate to agree with me wholeheartedly.
Sending lots of love your way, Hokies.