Virginia Tech Magazine
Convocation remarks | Memorial Issue | May 2007

Dr. Zenobia Hikes


My name is Zenobia Hikes, vice president for student affairs.

We have come together today to remember the cherished and innocent members of our Virginia Tech family who lost their lives in a senseless act that has left us all reeling with excruciating grief.

As we share our sorrow, we collectively pay tribute to these young, gifted minds who came to Virginia Tech searching for knowledge and understanding, and to these dedicated, talented professors who sought to impart that knowledge and enhance that understanding. Today, the world shares our sorrow and pays tribute with us.

We particularly want the families and friends of those who died to know that you have our deepest, most heartfelt sympathy. We hope you know that we will do what we can to ease your pain, even as we deal with our own. Your loved ones were valued members of the Virginia Tech family and they can never be replaced, either in our hallways or in our hearts.

Dr. Zenobia Hikes

What happened here yesterday has reverberated not just throughout the Virginia Tech family but throughout all of higher education--indeed, throughout the world. This global tragedy is one we never imagined to see on our university campus. Because of it, we have lost not only these dear members of our Virginia Tech family, we have also lost the sense of peace that comes with learning.

The Virginia Tech family is one of camaraderie, respect, scholarship, pride, and spirit--standing together through the good times and the bad. What has happened to these beloved members of our family has brought us even closer together in shared grief and disbelief. With the help and support of each other and our brothers and sisters from around the world, and with the uplifting strength we gain from our collective loss, we will eventually recover. But we will never ever forget.

President Charles W. Steger
President Charles Steger

Today, our university community, indeed the entire nation and people from many other nations, come together to mourn and to grieve, all the while hoping that we will awaken from this horrible nightmare.

In the last day, I have expressed my horror and shock, but there are no words to truly express the depth of sadness that we all feel.

It is overwhelming, almost paralyzing, yet our hearts and our minds call us to come together, to share our individual attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible, to make sense of the senseless, and to find ways for our community to heal. And, slowly and painfully but inevitably, to begin to heal and to again move forward.

We are very grateful that we do not have to travel this path alone.

The expressions of sympathy and support that have poured in from all corners of our nation and from around the world have touched us, have helped us cope with this incredible tragedy, and have reaffirmed our basic belief in the goodness of people.

We want to thank all the members of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, especially Virginia Tech Police, Blacksburg Police, and Virginia State Police, and all emergency responders who rushed to our aid, who continue to monitor our campus, and who have the additional horror of investigating this catastrophe. We cannot thank them enough for their bravery and their assistance.

We are extremely grateful that you here in attendance today have come to help us and to help each other. We are thankful for our students and their friends and families who have offered solace and comfort to one another.

In fact, the Student Government Association and the student body have organized a candlelight vigil that will take place on the Drillfield near the War Memorial at approximately 8 p.m.

As I have mentioned previously but want to emphasize, there is counseling available for all members of the university community. Counseling for students is available at the McComas Center and for faculty and staff at Squires in the Brush Mountain Room.

This afternoon, during this Convocation, we see further testimony that the events that occurred in our community yesterday had an impact not just on friends and families, but on millions and millions of people.

To help us mourn and to begin to heal, we have with us, of course, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush; Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and First Lady Ann Holton; all of the Virginia members of the U.S. Congress; the Honorable Bill Bolling, lieutenant governor of Virginia; and Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell; members of the Virginia General Assembly, as well as members and former members of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. We also appreciate having with us members of the Blacksburg Town Council and other local officials.

We deeply appreciate their care, concern, and compassion.

Governor Tim Kaine

What an amazing community this is. Mr. President and Mrs. Bush and to all who are part of this Virginia Tech community in this room, on this campus, worldwide today; it is a very bitter and sad day, and yet my wife, Anne, and I are very privileged to be here with you, and there is no where else in the world we would rather be than with you at this moment.

As Charlie mentioned, Anne and I had left on Sunday morning from Richmond to go on a two-week trade mission to Asia. One of the events is actually an event in India to spotlight a wonderful program of Virginia Tech. We had been in Tokyo in the hotel for about five hours and we were awakened with a call at about 1 a.m. to report the horrible tragedy on this campus, and we were stunned. Our first thought was that we need to get home--we need to be in Blacksburg with this community that we care so much about.

Gov. Tim Kaine

We had the experience of being up in the middle of the night and not being able to get home for about 10 hours. So we did what people all across the world had been doing in the last of couple of days. We sat there at first in our hotel room and then in a coffee shop and then in an airport waiting lounge with the television on watching to get news about what was happening on the campus and how the campus was handling this.

It was different being away from home, being halfway across the world, and seeing what was happening on this campus, and what you students were showing to the world. And even in the midst of the darkest day in the history of this campus, what you showed to the world yesterday, you students, was an amazing thing.

Again and again and again, in all these various news outlets, students were called forth to offer their thoughts and asked what they thought about their campus and how they were dealing with this tragedy. The grief was real and very raw and the questions were deep and troubling, but again the students came back to wearing the Virginia Tech sweatshirts, wearing the Virginia Tech caps, and the incredible community spirit and sense of unity here on this campus and how before it was about who was to blame or what could have been done differently, it was about how we take care of each other in this wonderful, wonderful community. How proud we were, even in the midst of a sad day, to see how well you represented yourselves and this university to a worldwide community.

There are deep emotions that are called forth by a tragedy as significant as this, grieving and sadness by the boatload. Anne and I have unashamedly shed tears about this and I know virtually all of you have as well. That is the thing we should be doing; we should be grieving. There are resources here on this campus and others who are on this campus to help you if you find the need for consolation, which is so important.

A second reaction that is a natural reaction is anger--anger at the gunman, anger at the circumstance. Asking, "What could have been done differently?"--that's natural as well. One of the most powerful stories in the human history of stories is that great story central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity--the story of Job from the Old Testament, afflicted with all kinds of tragedy in his family and health, and he was angry. He was angry with his circumstances. He was angry at his Creator. He argued with God and he didn't lose his faith. It's okay to argue. It's okay to be angry. Those emotions are natural as well.

And finally, the emotions of the family members most affected go beyond grief, losing a son, losing a daughter, a brother, a sister, losing a close friend. You can go beyond grief to isolation and feeling despair. Those haunting words that were uttered on a hill on Calvary: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Despair is a natural emotion at a time like this. They're all natural, they're all appropriate, but let me ask one thing of you, this community, as you wrestle with your sadness, as you wrestle with your own feelings of anger, of confusion, as you wrestle with the despair, even you family members who have lost people close, you do not let hold of that spirit of community that makes Virginia Tech such a special place. Do not lose hold of that.

You need it as a university because you've always had it. You need to maintain it. We do not need that spirit of community to be a victim of yesterday.

You, as a community unified--together there is so much you can do for these family members to help bear them up, to help them deal with their grief. If you are unified, there is an incalculable amount you can do to help the family members and friends deal with the loss.

We need, in Virginia, that spirit of community that you have here. We are bold enough to call ourselves not a state but a commonwealth. A state is a dotted line, a state is a political subdivision; commonwealth has a meaning. The meaning is what we have, the God-given and man-made resources that we have we hold in common for a community. And you at Virginia Tech can be that community and demonstrate that community for us in a way that will benefit the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

And finally I would say to you, from having that vantage point of hearing about this on the other side of the world, it is not just for you that you need to maintain that spirit: the world needs you to, as well. Because the world was watching you yesterday, and in the darkest moment in the history of this university, the world saw you and it saw you respond in a way that built community.

I was reminded in the airport as we got ready to board to come back that I've seen this story before. I've turned on television and seen the bad news of a shooting or a weather emergency or a famine. I've seen these stories and there will be more stories, but there was something in the story yesterday that was different--and it was you. Your spirit, even in a dark day, of optimism and community and hope and of wanting to be together. You taught something good yesterday, even on a dark day, to people all around the world, and the world needs that example put forward.

And so I pledge to do all I can, President Steger and members of the community, and my team as well, to be with you in the coming days. To be alongside you in difficult times as we sort through and try to work with families and friends. You have a remarkable community here; just look around and see this. And see the thousands of students next door. This is a remarkable place. Do not let hold of that sense of community that is so powerful in this room.

President George W. Bush

Governor, thank you. President Steger, thank you very much. Students, and faculty, and staff, and grieving family members, and members of this really extraordinary place.

Laura and I have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow. This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community--and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation. We've come to express our sympathy. In this time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected.

Yesterday began like any other day. Students woke up, and they grabbed their backpacks and they headed for class. And soon the day took a dark turn, with students and faculty barricading themselves in classrooms and dormitories--confused, terrified, and deeply worried. By the end of the morning, it was the worst day of violence on a college campus in American history--and for many of you here today, it was the worst day of your lives.

It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone--and they leave behind grieving families, grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.

President George W. Bush

In such times as this, we look for sources of strength to sustain us. And in this moment of loss, you’re finding these sources everywhere around you. These sources of strength are in this community, this college community. You have a compassionate and resilient community here at Virginia Tech. Even as yesterday's events were still unfolding, members of this community found each other; you came together in dorm rooms and dining halls and on blogs. One recent graduate wrote this: "I don't know most of you guys, but we're all Hokies, which means we're family. To all of you who are okay, I'm happy for that. For those of you who are in pain or have lost someone close to you, I'm sure you can call on any one of us and have help any time you need it."

These sources of strength are with your loved ones. For many of you, your first instinct was to call home and let your moms and dads know that you were okay. Others took on the terrible duty of calling the relatives of a classmate or a colleague who had been wounded or lost. I know many of you feel awfully far away from people you lean on and people you count on during difficult times. But as a dad, I can assure you, a parent's love is never far from his child's heart. And as you draw closer to your own families in the coming days, I ask you to reach out to those who ache for sons and daughters who will never come home.

These sources of strength are also in the faith that sustains so many of us. Across the town of Blacksburg and in towns all across America, houses of worship from every faith have opened their doors and have lifted you up in prayer. People who have never met you are praying for you; they're praying for your friends who have fallen and who are injured. There's a power in these prayers, real power. In times like this, we can find comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God. As the Scriptures tell us, "Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

And on this terrible day of mourning, it's hard to imagine that a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal. But such a day will come. And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday and the time you shared with them and the lives they hoped to lead. May God bless you. May God bless and keep the souls of the lost. And may His love touch all those who suffer and grieve.

Jacob A. Lutz III
Jacob A Lutz III
As a native of Blacksburg, an alumnus of Virginia Tech, and rector of the board of visitors, I want to express both my horror and shock at the events of yesterday and my appreciation for the outpouring of support from people around the world and for the many prayers that have been lifted on our behalf.

We gather this afternoon to mourn and pay homage to those innocent lives lost in this insensible tragedy. We gather as a family, as a community saddened beyond belief. We also recognize that we are part of a larger community--a national community dedicated to the teaching of our young people, performing critical research, and educating all of us.

Education is a critical component of a free and open society. Unfortunately, history teaches us that the horror that befell Virginia Tech yesterday has occured and could occur at any institution. Our educational system is a national treasure, one that we must preserve and keep safe for our children and for the children of generations to come.

As President Bush noted yesterday, our sanctuary has been violated. We feel violated and are filled with sadness and grief. Yet, in our hearts, we know we must, somehow, move forward, as painful as those steps are. From somewhere in the human spirit, we can and will find the strength and courage to continue.

While it may seem an impossible task, we must move forward and begin the healing process.

Nikki Giovanni

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands, being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

Nikki Giovanni

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open hearts 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.

students at Convocation
students at Convocation
students at Convocation

Editor's page | President's message | In memoriam | We will prevail (photo essay)
Today, we are all Hokies | The world now knows Virginia Tech | Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund | 4.16.07

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