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Candlelight Ceremony to Remember Those Killed at Virginia Tech

April 17, 2007, McIntire Amphitheater, 7:00 p.m.

We have gathered here over the years, from time to time, when momentous events pull us together as a community. The last time I recall was the night of 9/11 and 9/12 and 9/13. We sat silently as you sit silently. We came together as a community to focus on issues that had to do with the lives of those who were lost and also with our, and especially, your futures.

  • We have come together this evening to talk, meditate on, and mourn the deaths of students and faculty members who died and wounding of others at VA Tech yesterday.
  • What happened in Blacksburg is hard to imagine, and even harder to accept.
  • We have witnessed on television and through cell phones the unfolding of unbelievable events. Because it happened so close to us, to a parent, a sister, a faculty colleague whom we know, the events are all the more immediate, tangible, and perplexing.
  • We, each of us, will in our own way struggle with yesterday’s terrible losses.
We are close to VA Tech in many ways:

  • She is our neighbor and sister institution. Along with the Rector and Mrs. Farrell, student council president Lauren Tilton, and Dean Aylor, Betsy and I attended the convocation in Blacksburg this afternoon. And we are flying VA Tech’s flag here tonight.
  • We sat on stadium bleachers with Tech students and faculty and watched and heard a ceremony that was both somber and somehow assertive of life.
  • The poet Nikki Giovanni concluded the ceremony with a poem that ended with Virginia Tech sports cheers.
  • Our faculty enjoy many friendships and collaborations. Today, our Faculty Senate sent a message of condolence to the VA Tech community.
  • Many of you have friends or siblings or family who study or work there. Some of you have lost those close to you.
  • There will undoubtedly be others, but I know of four who died, who had direct connections with us:
  • G. V. Loganathan, was a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in the College of Engineering.
  • Professor Loganathan’s daughter, Uma, is a 4th year, Biomedical Engineering major. She asks us to think of her father not as a part of the general description of the tragedy, but as an individual who was dedicated to his life's work of teaching and research, which he loved.
  • Kevin Granata, a past member of the UVa Biomedical Engineering Faculty and research professor here in orthopaedic surgery also was killed yesterday at Va. Tech.
  • Dr. Granata was a full-time member of the UVa Orthopaedic Surgery department with a joint appointment on the Biomedical Engineering faculty. In January 2003, he joined the faculty of Va. Tech's Department of
    Engineering Science and Mechanics.
  • While at U.Va., Dr. Granata worked primarily in the Kluge Rehabilitation facility, on research to understand human gait, particularly to design therapies for children with cerebral palsy, and to analyze spinal stability and mechanics, for improvement of occupational safety and low back pain treatment.
  • Reema Samaha, a sister of second year nursing student Randa Samaha, died.
  • Finally, Adrienne Fadoul, an undergraduate in the College, lost a first cousin.

Universities are a form of family. They are protected communities with shared values and a climate of openness. Universities:

  • value open inquiry,
  • pursue new ideas and discoveries,
  • transmit knowledge,
  • and they promote rational thought.

Yet, as what happened in Blacksburg yesterday shows us, the world is not always rational. Irrationality is a force we encounter.

Irrationality is hard to predict, and even harder to understand.

So this evening, let us take our cue from Luke (3:10): "What then shall we do?"

  • What then shall we do to prevent catastrophes like yesterday’s from happening?
  • What then shall we do to endure this one?

Some answers are purely practical–rational:

  • The University has detailed procedures in place to handle catastrophes of many kinds.
  • We will review all of these procedures.
  • We will adjust them if we learn of better ways to protect you and all members of this University community.
  • We are developing an instantaneous notice system for next fall, which will include e-mail, text, PDAs, and screens around Grounds.
  • The University has counselors and advisors here to help you. The Office of Student Affairs has lists of these services, and you can find lists of the support resources on the University’s web site at www.virginia.edu/vatechsupport/
  • For most of us, it helps to have someone to talk to about events that have hurt us deeply, or frightened us, or shaken our trust in our fellow human beings.

“What then shall we do?”

  • I urge you to stay here in Charlottesville and to stay close to your friends.
  • Reach out to each other
  • Talk to one another.
  • Talk to faculty members and residence hall advisors.
  • Stay in close touch with your families and friends.
  • Do not be afraid or embarrassed to talk about your grief or your fears.
  • Also, do not hesitate to report any activity or person whose words or actions strike you are being suspicious or dangerous or irrational. Doing so may save lives.
  • We share here a belief in human freedom. Our Grounds are a sanctuary, albeit fragile, as is life itself.
  • We believe in rational thought, personal responsibility, citizenship, and the freedom to enjoy these fruits of learning.

What then shall we do?

  1. We can learn from yesterday’s tragedy.
  2. We can equip our minds and hearts and our environment to deal with an imperfect world, and to cope with irrationality and grief.
  3. We can also train our minds and hearts to change the world, with the hope that we can make incidents such as yesterday’s rarer.

Tonight, let us remember and pray for all those whose lives have been changed forever — whose lives have been lost, whose loved ones now seek solace of their own.

 

John T. Casteen III

 

Moment of Silence