A Pilgrimage Begins
This past Saturday, I set out as I had almost exactly 31 years ago for a little town situated on a plateau between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains.
I was on my way to Blacksburg, Virginia, located 265 miles away in the New River Valley of Southwest Virginia.
But, not as a dewy-eyed transfer student on his way to start the spring quarter at the state’s land grant university.
Instead, I was a teary-eyed alumnus on a pilgrimage to pay my respects to a group of 32 students and faculty members.
Although we had never met, I felt as close to them as if we had all shared a commencement stage.
What we had in common was our association with my destination: the 2,600 acre main campus of Virginia Tech.
As one of my classmates told me last week, there is just one degree of separation between every Virginian and a Virginia Tech student or alumnus.
The shooting deaths of the 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech last week shocked the nation.
But, they were devastating to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The following describes what I found during my weekend visit back to my alma mater.
An an extended essay about my trip will soon be up on the News-Press website, along with more photographs.
Remembrance and Support
Norris Hall, where all but two of the killings took place is next to Burruss Hall. There was yellow police tape circling it and people had placed flowers nearby.
Between the two buildings, a box of sidewalk chalk had been left and people were writing their feelings on the sidewalk.
Flowers and other memorabilia were placed at the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance to Burruss Hall, along with a sign.
The sign read” We Love You President Steger” and it was signed by students, faculty, and others. I found widespread support for him during my visit.
There is a stone retaining wall across the road from Burruss Hall with stairs leading to the center of the drillfield.
Around this were placed flowers, memorabilia, and signs of support of all kinds by people from all over the country.
Banners, posters, and oversized cards with messages of support – both handwritten and professionally printed – from schools were abundant.
There was a banner from students and faculty of Anderson College in South Carolina and a poster from West Virginia University.
There were with notes from school children and teachers from Surry County, Carroll County, and other localities all over Virginia.
A few paces from there on the drillfield, 32 Hokie stones were arranged on the grass with the names of each of the victims.
People placed flowers, keepsakes, and messages around these. Each one had a burning candle and an American flag.
One of the victims was from Peru and a Peruvian flag was placed by his stone. Official ACC baseballs were placed by each stone, apparently by the varsity baseball team.
On Sunday, the University of Maryland softball team left NCAA softballs autographed by each coach and team member by each stone.
People also left personal notes and photographs of victims, their families, or their pets.
As I was looking at all of this, a woman wearing a Muslim hijab was slowly putting a rose by each stone, and I thanked her after she placed the last one.
In the center of the drillfield, there were three large open sided tents. Under each one there were four message boards.
The Virginia Tech support staff created these by building oversized sawhorses and nailing onto each side 4-foot by 8-foot plywood sheets painted white on the outside.
Markers had then been affixed to these and people wrote out their thoughts and messages on these boards.
Others left posters, such as the one that said that “New York Cares.” One from Texas Tech said “From one Tech to another. Our thoughts are with you.”
Someone, apparently from New Zealand, left a large flag on a pole from his country. Wreathes and flowers were everywhere.
By Sunday, each of these message boards had been filled up and eight more had to be constructed and left out in the open.
To the northwest of this area, a set of maroon and orange “Hokie Pride” message boards were installed and I found messages of support for the first responders.
Photographs of these scenes and others, along with extended descriptions will soon be posted on the News-Press.