by Vice President for Alumni Relations Tom Tillar '69
More than 40 years ago, I first arrived on this campus as a student. Charles Steger lived in my residence hall, just a few doors away, and was in several of my classes. We became friends. We enjoyed a campus that was safe, beautiful, and so inviting to its brand-new students. Little did we know that we would spend our entire careers working for our alma mater. It truly is an honor and a privilege to serve the institution that helped shape our values and fulfilled our passion to serve in a community of learning.
No one that I know could do a better job of leading Virginia Tech and guiding us through this recent crisis than our president, Charles Steger. He is a talented and gifted leader in the academic world. On April 16, he rose to the occasion far beyond the expectations of all who work with him. Charles was given the longest standing ovation at the Memorial Convocation on April 17--in front of both the president of the United States and the governor of Virginia--and it was a visible symbol of the gratitude of a grieving university community and, indeed, an entire nation.
Virginia Tech is a special place and community in the hearts of thousands, now millions, of people worldwide. The college is associated with beauty and serenity in Southwest Virginia. Blacksburg is a college town. Everyone who lives here, passes through here, attends Virginia Tech, or attends a sporting event feels ownership of this place.
Our campus, our sanctuary of learning, has been violated beyond anyone's imagination. The pain caused by the events of April 16 resonated around the entire world--not just with alumni, but with millions who have never been here in person. Somehow, they understand and appreciate the value and quality of a place dedicated to the missions of teaching, research, and outreach.
The world mourns with us that violation of a campus and town that invite students to come to live and learn as Charles and I did years ago. It is important for the world to know that Virginia Tech remains a place that our current students love, that our alumni treasure, and that all who visit can still call their own.
I have walked among students struggling with their grief. I felt a spirit of hope every time I mingled with the thousands of students, families, alumni, and friends who were drawn to this place after the tragedy. To know that people all over the world share that grief with us is incredibly comforting and powerful.
President Charles Steger places a single rose on a memorial, created by students in front of Burruss Hall, concluding the statewide "moment of silence" observance on April 20.
The demonstrations of support across the country and around the world are far too many to list, and there are many that we may never even learn about. The special events, the memorial services, the candlelight vigils, the concerts, and the many public tributes said that Virginia Tech was in people's hearts and prayers. The welfare of our community was foremost on the minds of those who saw images and watched, heard, or read interviews with our brave students faculty, staff, and alumni. Even at the South Pole, an American flag was lowered at a research facility surrounded by many nations' flags.
Poet Nikki Giovanni closed our Memorial Convocation with the words, "We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech." Now etched in the hearts of everyone who sympathized with the families that lost their loved ones, her words rang across the world so loudly that they made hearts soar with hope for the future. They were the perfect inspiration in the very darkest hour of a university torn apart with sadness and grief.
We realize that tragedy does strike when and where it may be least expected. And we have learned that strength can be drawn from such horrific events. Virginia Tech is a place that cannot be beaten down by tragedy of this proportion; it is a place that students did not leave during its darkest hours. We know that thousands of new students will come for the same experience that current ones are having. And, yes, they too will become proud alumni and join you in carrying the torch of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
A moving illustration of the tragedy we have all just lived through is in the story of one of our professors who lost his daughter in Norris Hall. He sent an e-mail to his classes later that day saying that he was unsure how or where classes would continue. And he gave his students one final assignment: ". . . perhaps the most important lesson you will learn in life. Go to your mother, father, brothers, and sisters and tell them with all your heart how much you love them. And tell them that you know how much they love you, too. Go out of your way to make good memories. At some point, those memories may be all you have left."
I recall an occasion in the mid-80s at which Robert Pamplin Sr.--for whom the College of Business and its building are both named--read an official statement to kick off the university's first major capital campaign. A bit uncomfortably, he read the words that had been written for him, and then he put down his script and said, "Now let me tell you what is in my heart." He explained that life had treated him well, and he felt an obligation and satisfaction in giving back to the place that had given him the most rewarding experiences of his life.
Now, let me tell you what is in my heart: Virginia Tech has drawn and will continue to draw strength from unity, whether making memories with friends, recalling those memories, bonding with other students and professors, or simply learning from the amazing group of fine people who are drawn to this place. Our alumni must continue to come together wherever they live. They must continue to connect by phone, e-mail, or in person to renew their bonds. And they must show the world how much they love their alma mater. Because there is no more special place in the entire world.
As the eyes of the world peer at us, they see what makes us truly a Hokie Nation. They see what makes us the proudest alumni in the world. And they come to understand that this feeling is so very powerful that it never, never can be violated or destroyed.