Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bandmates play on in resounding tribute

A crowd of more than 1,000 celebrated Ryan Clark's life with tender poems, upbeat songs and a Hokie screech.

Members of the Virginia Tech marching Band walk away from Lakeside High School, the site of a memorial service in honor of Virginia Tech massacre victim Ryan Clark in Augusta, Ga., Saturday. Clark, a Virginia Tech band member, was a graduate of Lakeside High School.

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Members of the Virginia Tech marching Band walk away from Lakeside High School, the site of a memorial service in honor of Virginia Tech massacre victim Ryan Clark in Augusta, Ga., Saturday. Clark, a Virginia Tech band member, was a graduate of Lakeside High School.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- One hundred Marching Virginians and hundreds more Virginians at heart packed Lakeside High School's gym Saturday to remember Ryan "Stack" Clark and a smile that inspired them to optimism.

At the ceremony, held at the school where Clark graduated in 2002, many shed tears, some shared hugs and most wore Virginia Tech maroon and orange.

In between, poems tugged at the heart, including one from renowned poet Maya Angelou, titled "When Great Trees Fall."

And through it all, his band played on.

"Go Tech! Go Tech!" the band shouted twice while performing an upbeat song of school pride. "H-O-K-I-E-S," band members spelled out. "Hokies!"

Soon enough, the crowd of more than 1,000 was standing and clapping along.

Such was the day to remember the 22-year-old triple major who many said was best-known for his trademark "electric smile" and was one of the first two fatally shot in Monday's massacre that killed 32 victims at Virginia Tech. Clark was to attend graduation ceremonies and celebrate his 23rd birthday next month.

Ryan Christopher Clark

Ryan Christopher Clark, 22

  • Class: Senior
  • Majors: Psychology, biology, English
  • Hometown: Martinez, Georgia
  • Parents: Stan and Letitie Clark
  • Blacksburg residence: West Ambler Johnston Hall

Many said that if Clark had been at Saturday's ceremony, he likely would have been dancing and would have been the first to greet those there with a smile and another trademark welcome -- that of a Hokie screech.

"Stack would want us to laugh," said David McKee, Clark's band director at Virginia Tech, who asked the crowd to screech in unison. McKee attended along with about 100 current and former members of the band.

Clark's family members sat in front of the stage, where several presentations were made, including a Virginia Tech flag by a group of Tech students.

"Each time the Hokies play football, we would be honored to have that flag fly at your home," McKee said to the family.

Some of Clark's friends said they were still trying to come to grips with the loss.

"The world's already a darker place without his light shining," said friend Daniah Hannif-Ali, a fellow Virginia Tech student.

But many said hope was kept alive with the memories of his laugh, his accepting nature and sense of humor.

"His optimism was what I'll remember most," said Gail Jerrell, the wife of Robbie Jerrell, who directed Clark while he was in Lakeside's band. "He was always the one smiling and having a good time. I pray we can carry on Ryan's legacy and enjoy life as much as he did."

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