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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Virginia Tech: Reflection & Renewal

The Last Gift of The Fallen Was to Make Us Stronger

The Last Gift of The Fallen Was to Make Us Stronger

April 13, 2008

By Charles J. Dudley, Guest Columnist

BLACKSBURG, Va. — On a rise above the Drillfield, the semicircle of stones rests near the center of campus. It is a busy place. Students pass by on their way to and from residence halls to class, the main transfer point for the Blacksburg Transit System connects the entire town to this spot, the Corps of Cadets marches by on a regular schedule, and — in the evenings of spring semester-- the field is alive with students at play. It is but a short walk to the east to find the War Memorial Chapel and its eight pylons representing the core values of the university. In short, this place lies at the physical and moral heart of Virginia Tech.

The stones appeared overnight last April 16. Students in Hokies United gathered and arranged them in their current design. Since the original placement, the stones have become one of the most visited spots on campus. Groups often visit, including the New York Yankees baseball team just a few weeks ago. The university improved the site and added some plants and a walkway.

It is appropriate that the lives of the students and faculty taken from us one year ago this week be remembered in a center of activity — and not in a remote quiet place. Here they are among us every day.

For me, these stones represent much more than the sadness following the loss of many wonderful people. Thinking back to the abject horror of that day, the stones stand as a monument to the fierce determination on the part of Tech students to protect what is valuable about this university. In the days following, the entire university community came together to remember the dead, the wounded, and their families with dignity and honor. The campus struggled with the end of the semester. New security plans were made and implemented. As the days passed, the impromptu memorial became a part of who we are as a university.

The university made these stones looking over the Drillfield the permanent remembrance of the tragic events of that day. For me and I suspect others, the stones also represent the qualities our students bring to this campus. They give the faculty much to work with in the tasks of learning.

The youthfulness of the university community often tricks our minds into believing it to be a place that death does not visit. Such is not the case. University Honors at Virginia Tech serves about 1,500 students. Three were killed on April 16. Leslie Sherman, Austin Cloyd, and Maxine Turner have been joined this academic year by Nicole Lee (auto accident) and Meredith Winall (illness). Five vital young women, five people of talent, lost to us in a single year. The death of our young people always seems more difficult. As with any community the size of Tech, we have our share of loss.

This April 16 members of the Honors community will gather in front of Hillcrest Hall to plant tress for Austin Cloyd and Maxine Turner. Our plans are to plant trees each year for students who have died. A tree planted for Leslie Sherman by the Main Campbell Honors Community last spring provided the beginning of this practice. Next year we will remember Nicole and Meredith.

Stones and trees. When we humans seek to remember and commemorate we often do so with these symbols. An oak tree recently removed from the lawn at Hillcrest was well over two hundred years old. To plant a tree in remembrance is a promise to remember for a long time, The stones will last even longer. So I look forward to our gathering this week as a time to recall our absent friends and to restate important values. Such meetings help remind us of the obligations of being alive. We will prevail and even more we shall go forward. The last gift of the fallen was to make us stronger.

All this is true, but I would still rather go to my office on Monday to meet Leslie, Austin, Maxine, Nicole and Meredith — and to laugh once again the joy of youth.

3:11 pm edt 

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Music - Time and Time Again by The Counting Crows