Thank you all for coming and please be seated.
This is a solemn day and an important day for the Virginia Tech family. When I say “family,” I am including all of us here today as well as those around the nation and the world who are holding us in their hearts ... students, staff, faculty, especially those who were injured and their families, and the families of those we lost;
the Class of 2007, whose years at Virginia Tech ended in such an unimaginable way;
friends such as our colleagues at Northern Illinois University;
members of the surrounding communities;
and, of course, Governor Kaine, who has been with us from the very beginning and whose support has been deeply appreciated.
An entire year has passed since the heartrending events that we mark today, and while the passage of time has helped us in many ways, we remain deeply and profoundly saddened by the events of that tragic day.
Neither the searing heat of summer nor the icy winds of winter has relieved us of our pain. So, just as we have turned to each other for comfort so many times over the past months, it is fitting that we gather today to support one another yet again, as we remember those whose lives were lost and those whose lives were forever changed on April 16, 2007.
Indeed, all of our lives were changed by that day.
And so we gather here at the symbolic heart of this University, perhaps with the hope of alleviating some of that sadness...some of that pain, but most certainly to offer comfort to one another... and to reflect upon all that was lost on April 16th a year ago.
We are grateful to the Day of Remembrance Steering Committee, which included several members of victims’ families. It was the Committee’s collective sense that today’s activities should allow for quiet and respectful reflection, and we hope that we have honored those wishes.
Also in attendance today, along with their families, are a number of students who were injured in those fateful events. While they do not wish to be recognized, we cannot let this day pass without saluting them for their bravery, courage, and commitment to their own educational ideals.
We should all be proud of these remarkable young people…. and pay tribute to their families for creating such a loving and nurturing home environment, which allows them to continue to heal – both physically and emotionally.
And of course, all of you – here on the Drillfield and friends around the world – who have embraced this community with support and love, and who have helped us make our way along this rough road toward recovery.
It has been a difficult road, a hard journey, indeed. It began with shock and trauma and a flood of emotions.
In the ensuing days, weeks and months...
We have searched for answers.
We have searched for meaning in what is incomprehensible.
We have searched for rest in those sleepless hours in the night when the silence is shattered by the barrage of our own thoughts...
And we have searched our souls for purpose and direction and peace to calm the turmoil in our hearts and minds.
We have not found all that we have sought, but at every turn, we have found each other.
Yet, even as we are surrounded by so many, we must remember that what we commemorate – what is at the heart of this day – is not public. Rather, it is a very private and profound loss, a loss that was experienced over and over on that fateful morning, and a loss that has no doubt been relived again and again during the passing of the days.
Since the blur of those first days, our focus has grown sharper. We know intently what the people we lost meant to us, and we are more keenly aware of how they touched and changed our lives.
Kahlil Gibran’s eloquent words about Friendship in his work, The Prophet, hold true for all loved ones:
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence,
As the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And while what happened here one year ago has surely touched us all — for 32 families, today marks a moment in which they must confront the deepest of all losses – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a life well-lived, and the loss of a bright and promising future.
Many members of those families are here with us today. Others may be following this event via television or the internet. To all of you, I want you to know that I am humbled by your courage, your grace, and your strength.
Whether you are here or elsewhere, we — myself and the entire Virginia Tech family – once again offer our condolences and our pledge of support in the hope that, in some small way, this may help you bear the great sense of loss that you endure each day.
We hope that the loving hand of family, friends, and this community will help sustain you and provide you with a measure of peace …..comfort…. and strength.
And so, together, we have gathered here to reflect upon the lives of thirty-two remarkable people, 32 members of this community whose individual and collective accomplishments continue to be a stirring and sober reminder of not only what was lost, but what might have been.
Although our sadness continues to weigh upon us, the one thing we can put to rest now is any fear that we will forget those who were taken from our midst. We know now that will never be the case.
We have found that weaving those memories into the fabric of our days inspires us to reach our highest promise.
And we know more about ourselves as well—how deeply devastated we may be, yet how determined and resilient we can be.
We have found within ourselves the fortitude that enables us to reach out and support others who need us – such as our friends at Northern Illinois — just as others touched us with their hands and hearts in our time of greatest need.
It is our hope that the remembrances of each victim will provide families….and a community that still grieves with them …. a cherished glimpse of the loved ones who will remain forever in our hearts.
So, on this solemn day of remembrance and all those to follow, let us remember our loved ones and challenge ourselves to continue our personal journey to live meaningful lives—to embrace the future with hope and a sense of purpose... to reach our highest promise.
Let me close with another line from Gibran’s The Prophet ... “Let today embrace the past with remembrance — and the future with longing.”
And now Tony Distler and Karen Cronin will lead us in remembrance of those precious lives lost one year ago.
© 2009 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University