Sunday, August 19, 2007
Tech unveils a monument for the future
- A great community needs great leaders
- A fresh vision for downtown Christiansburg
- The Black House will be an eyesore no more
- Del. Yost wants to clean up Virginia's laws
From the RoundTable blog
On a hot, still day last weekend, I climbed Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County. At the top, I met a pleasant couple from Blacksburg. They were out hiking for her birthday, and we chatted for a few minutes there, overlooking Southwest Virginia.
We talked about the weather Virginia Tech and Hokie football. They mentioned that they would squirrel away inside their home this weekend. Like many town residents, they planned to take shelter from the rushing, roaring arrival of Tech students.
This year's crowds and traffic likely will be particularly thick as reporters and television cameras document the first days back on campus. They will search for elusive stories not premised on inane inquiries such as, "What's it like to be back on campus?"
Nevertheless, for a few hours today, that couple from the mountain should depart their bunker.
At noon, on Tech's Drillfield, the university community will dedicate its memorial to the victims of the April 16 shootings. That Tech community includes the people of Blacksburg and beyond whom the tragedy profoundly affected. They belong at the ceremony along with the students, staff and faculty so that all can share a cathartic moment.
Thirty-two Hokie stones will form a rough semicircle at the foot of the viewing stand in front of Burruss Hall. Each stone will bear the name of a victim.
It will make permanent the temporary memorial set up in the hollow days of April that so many people visited in their mourning.
The site will be a fitting monument. Suitably prominent and tasteful, it will serve better than any passionately desired yet inappropriately gargantuan monument. Its designers realized it is less a salve for those who still suffer today than a message to those who tomorrow might forget what happened.
Years ago, I occasionally found myself on the Kent State University Campus. This was a couple of decades after the massacre in which National Guard troops fired on protesters, killing four and wounding nine.
My friends and I passed the spot where those people died, usually without giving it much thought. Sometimes, though, we would spot a marker and fall silent for a minute, lost in our own thoughts. We weren't callous; the horror just was before our time.
That is how it will be on the Tech campus someday. Those of us who hold immediate, sharp memories of the shootings will gradually become the minority. New students, faculty and town residents will enjoy blissful ignorance.
Seung-Hui Cho's rampage will have slipped to distant history. Thoughts of it will not consume waking hours. Students will go to classes, make friends and have fun, all without thinking of April 16.
Then a Frisbee will land on the northwest side of the Drillfield near the stones, and a student will pass them between classes. The elegant monument will remind those young people of not just the tragedy but also the strength of a community that persevered against it.
Hopefully, today's ceremony also will allow Tech, Blacksburg, the New River Valley and all of Virginia to look forward again.
Tomorrow is the start of a new school year. More than 5,000 freshmen enrolled this fall. They were not here for the shooting, and they did not give into irrational fear that such tragedy is commonplace. They came here to learn despite what happened.
They and the students who will follow deserve a chance to do just that. Grief cannot define Tech forever; the school's mission is education.
In the coming weeks, football games will distract from the tragedy. Lectures and young love will occupy minds and hearts. As the leaves change color and fall from the trees, memories of the victims of April 16 will rightly recede. That is not disrespectful; it is the passage of time.
Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke Times based in the New River Valley bureau in Christiansburg.