April 16 Memorial Dedication Ceremony
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Thank you, Tom. And I welcome every one here today as we come together still shaken, still deeply saddened by the collective nightmare of April 16, a day that scarred our hearts and left us with searing memories of loved ones lost and wounded.
We come together still seeking answers to the incomprehensible.
We come to remember that which we cannot forget -- for the love of those lost and the pain of losing them are much too great.
We also come together to remember wonderful, caring teachers and young lives with great promise, all of whom sought only better lives for themselves and a better world for others.
We come in the hope that this Memorial to the victims of April 16th will help each of us as we deal with our heartache and as we continue to tread -- each at his or her own pace -- upon the slow and difficult path of recovery and healing.
As you have heard, this spot and these stones were spontaneously selected and created by Virginia Tech students, out of their care, compassion and love for those lost and injured that terrible day.
It is most fitting that this tribute is of Hokie Stones -- stones that have been strengthened by the pressure they have withstood for eons. These simple limestone rocks, found only in the Appalachian Mountains, have been part of symbol of Virginia Tech for more than a century. These Hokie Stones represent a foundation and a link from one generation of Hokies to another.
We come together here at this Hokie Stone memorial to share the cherished memories of those who the world lost in a rampage of violence. We come to offer our thoughts, prayers and support to their families, who continue to suffer.
We join together to pay tribute to the young, beautiful minds that crossed this Drill Field in search of knowledge and their place in the world, and to the wisdom of their teachers, who devoted years and careers to nurturing generations of knowledge-seeking students.
They came from small towns here in Virginia and from states across this country and from the far-flung corners of the globe. They came from diverse backgrounds and cultures, each seeking, through Virginia Tech, a different path to tomorrow.
But they shared much in common. They shared a love of learning and a love for this university. They were earnest in their academic pursuits, yet loving and joyful.
Friends and colleagues have described how each was special and how they wanted to make a difference and to give something back to the world.
Each was gifted and talented and unique. They will be greatly missed . . . they shall not be forgotten.
We remember them with great sadness, but let us also remember the joy, the love, and the devotion they brought to this world.
We embrace their loved ones from around Virginia, the nation, and the globe as cherished members of the Virginia Tech community.
And those injured that cold morning, who, even now in the heat of summer, are still recovering from wounds, physical and emotional, and the families who continue to worry and struggle -- they will forever occupy a special place within the Virginia Tech family.
Some of those injured have graduated and moved on, while others are returning to Virginia Tech to complete their education. But to all, we extend our hands and our arms to you with a desire to help and support you.
This memorial also is dedicated to you -- we want it to be a monument to your courage and determination.
You have endured an ordeal that most will never face. May your wounds heal quickly and completely.
May you, in time, grow stronger and live your lives to the fullest and in the greatest service to others.
Every day since April 16th people from throughout this community and from around the world have offered and provided tremendous care and support, in many, many forms.
We are forever humbled by their care and concern for us for we were all victims. And, we are eternally thankful for the overwhelming support. There is no way we can ever adequately recognize, much less repay, the wonderful outpouring of support that has honored and bolstered our university community.
I also want to take a moment to express my most sincere and personal thanks to the faculty and staff of the university. While stunned and grieving yourselves, you somehow have mustered the will to keep going. Driven by a depth of compassion and a personal commitment to humanitarian service that this university had never before seen, you have worked together, and by serving others added a new dimension to the meaning of Ut Prosim, That I May Serve.
You have worked harder than ever to meet the unique needs of returning students, still traumatized but ready to begin anew, and to welcome a new class of students who are full of enthusiasm and eager to experience all that it means to be a part of the Hokie Family.
I am honored to work and live among such wonderful people, and I will always remember your devotion to each other, to this university, and to these families. You have my highest respect and deepest appreciation.
I hope that each day, the good that you've done and the healing that you've helped to bring about will, in turn, bring you a measure of peace and some increment of renewal.
I also recall the words of one of the notes added to the makeshift boards here on the Drillfield in April. It said, simply, "You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our spirits."
Indeed the spirit and the resiliency of the Virginia Tech community have amazed the world.
Our Governor, Tim Kaine, spoke at our Convocation about how he was amazed and proud of what he called, "the incredible community spirit and sense of unity" on this campus.
It is not just you that needs to maintain the spirit, the world needs you to, he said. In the darkest moment in the history of this university, the world saw you and saw you respond in a way that built community.
He also said that that strong spirit of optimism. . . of community. . . of hope, . . and of wanting to be together "taught something good to people all around the world, and the world needs that example put forward."
As the new academic year begins, we must maintain that optimism, that hope and that sense of coming together. We are reminded that the classroom and the laboratory are their own special domains and mark that special bond between teacher and student.
Despite our heavy hearts, these must remain sanctuaries of enlightenment, a domain to overcome intolerance, hatred and ignorance.
Virginia Tech is -- and shall remain -- committed to its core missions. Certainly, the events of April 16 have added many new challenges. Yet, I feel -- and I sense among many of you -- a renewed commitment to our learning, to our discovery, and to how we reach out to others.
This university is a place for growing and learning.
And as we grow and move into the future, we must have a vision -- not just a set of specific programs, but a set of shared commitments -- the duty we owe to ourselves, to one another, to our nation, and increasingly, to our fellow citizens across the globe.
As we close these ceremonies, allow me to direct your thoughts again to these Hokie Stones behind me. Today, these Hokie Stones are being dedicated here on the Drillfield another Virginia Tech landmark to remember the past, to memorialize those slain and injured in the tragedy of April 16, and to help all of us dedicate ourselves to each other and to the future.
These stones come from the earth in many colors muted shades of pink, red, gray, brown and black. May that represent our diverse individuality.
And when connected, as they are in the buildings all around us, they are incredibly strong and enduring, standing up to stress and storm throughout the years.
And so shall it be with the Virginia Tech Family.
Though severely battered by the events of April, we must be strong. . . We must have faith. . . We must lead. . . We must do what we believe is right . . . And we must not be afraid. . . We are Virginia Tech.
In a few moments, the bell will toll 32 times for the precious lives we lost, and we will close this ceremony with the symbolic presentation of Hokie Stones to the families of those whose names are forever etched into our hearts and into the Stones of this Memorial. We will reflect silently on those lives and how they have forever changed our own.
And to those families, our honored guests, it is our most sincere hope that you will become more and more like family. You are forever a part of the Virginia Tech community, and I hope you will embrace us as we seek to embrace you.
Now, this Memorial is officially dedicated. When we depart, let us do so as we have come together in remembrance and with renewed resolve. May peace be with you.