Apr 24, 2007
Hokie alumni remember their own
by Matthew Hegarty, Managing Editor
In remembrance of the Virginia Tech victims, the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association conducted a memorial service on Thursday, April 19. Several hundred people attended the service, which was held in conjunction with Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Burnt orange and Chicago maroon, the school colors of Virginia Tech, were visible everywhere, as was the school’s familiar logo. Both appeared on items ranging from purses and ribbons to T-shirts, track jackets and football jerseys. Even the TRBC sanctuary walls echoed the VT coloration scheme.
As attendees began to file into the sanctuary, others stopped to talk in small groups briefly or to reflect before entering. Tom Webb, a Lynchburg City School Board member, was one such person.
Webb, a 1964 graduate of Virginia Tech, said that he was attending a national school board conference in San Francisco when he first heard the news about his alma mater.
He was in a hotel elevator at the time and was wearing a VT T-shirt when a man standing next to him asked if he had heard about the shootings. Webb replied that he had not.
That soon changed. “Literally the whole week, I pretty much watched TV,” he said.
Webb has had two children, as well as two nephews and a niece, attend the school.
He said that he believed his attendance at the service was necessary.
“I’m feeling like everyone else here tonight…. You have to do it,” he said.
The service began with TRBC vocalist Charles Billingsley, who gave a stirring performance of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The first speaker to address the audience was Duke Grant (VT Class of 2006), the vice president of the Central Virginia Chapter. He challenged the audience to let the evening make them “better parents and better people.”
“This tragedy has affected us all in a very personal way – a way that we will not soon forget,” he said.
After a performance by Liberty musical group Sounds of Liberty, three local ministers came to offer words of hope – Dr. Tim Gerde of Peakland United Methodist Church, Pastor Mike Dodson of Tree of Life Ministries and Dr. Jerry Falwell.
Gerde, who traveled to Blacksburg the day after the massacre, told the audience that he was “inspired by (the) spirit, honesty and courage” of Virginia Tech students. In his remarks, he recited “Holy Sonnet X” by John Donne, a work that is better known as “Death Be Not Proud.”
“Death and despair will have no dominion here tonight,” he said, alluding to the poem.
“With faith and hope, the worst is never the end.”
Dodson quoted Psalm 30:5b, which says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
“Joy must overcome sorrow, and emptiness must once again become fullness,” Dodson said.
Falwell made various biblical references, quoting Romans 8:28 and mentioning Christ’s suffering on the cross. In his closing prayer, he asked that God, in His ministry to the members of the Virginia Tech community, would “not only bring them through this day and tomorrow, but all the tomorrows ahead.”
The last major speaker was Misty Bernall, the mother of slain Columbine High School student Cassie Bernall. Gunman Eric Harris killed Cassie Bernall on April 20, 1999 at Columbine, which is located near Littleton, Colo.
The Columbine massacre, in which Harris and accomplice Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives, is the third-deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history.
As Bernall got up to speak, the audience rose as one to give her a standing ovation. Bernall began her address in a voice that was fraught with emotion.
“I hope that tonight, I am able to give you hope,” she said.
Bernall, who also spoke at convocation on Friday, April 20 as part of remembering the eight-year anniversary of the attack at Columbine, briefly took the crowd back to that fateful day.
“Eight years is a long road,” she said. “I don’t know what we would have done without our faith in the Lord.”
“God turns our tragedy into triumph,” she said.
As part of the evening’s final events, Liberty student Benjamin Litter walked on stage dressed in traditional Scottish garb, playing the bagpipes. At the same time, men and women seated on stage began to light 32 candles, a figure that represents the total number of people killed at Virginia Tech minus the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui.
The lights dimmed and the names and faces of the 32 slain individuals passed across the screens as the haunting strains of “Amazing Grace” filled the sanctuary. When the last notes of the bagpipe faded, Billings-ley returned to the podium and sang an a cappella rendition of the “Our Father.”
The final speaker, Larry Grant, was a past president of the Central Virginia Chapter. Grant, who is the father of current Chapter vice president Duke Grant, hoped that the audience would avoid pointing “accusatory fingers” but would rather provide “hope and healing” to the community of Blacksburg.
As people filed out to return to their homes, some eyes were wet with tears – signs of empathizing with a university community that would be forever changed.
Contact Matthew Hegarty at email@example.com.
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