Friday, April 20, 2007

Today we are all Hokies

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has declared Friday a statewide day of mourning and he's asked other states to follow suit.

He's also asking people to show their support for the Virginia Tech community by wearing Hokie colors, burgundy and orange.

You can also show your support by donating to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which has been established by Virginia Tech to cover expenses related to grief counseling and memorial efforts (the United Way has also created a fund to aid the victims' families in their time of need).

There's also an online memorial going on at Facebook.

I didn't want to blog about this tragedy, but I've always had a roundabout connection to Virginia Tech. My high school in South Jersey used to send so many kids to Blacksburg every year that we jokingly called it our "13th grade", and one of my girlfriends went to VA Tech way back when. When I was still working at the Countway Library of Medicine in the interlibrary loan department several years ago I became re-acquainted with the Hokies when we were one of the first large academic libraries to adopt ILLiad, an online ILL system developed by the folks at Virginia Tech.

Recently I've corresponded with a member of the VA Tech faculty on a professional email discussion list, who after reassuring us that he in fact was alive after the terrible news broke gave us his own harrowing first-person perspective of the events of April 16th, including heartbreaking reminiscences of the several faculty members who were killed - most notably Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu, who bravely interposed himself between students and their assailant in order to buy them precious time to flee.

(My buddy Matthew Reidsma's best friend also teaches at Virginia Tech. He posted his own account of what happened on Monday to his Livejournal site.)

For those of us who live and work in higher education, this event can't help but hit close to home. I could see the anxiety on the faces of my work-study students all week as they came in for their shifts. When you're smack in the middle of a large academic pressure cooker yourself, how can you not wonder if yours will be the next school where a kid simply loses it and goes on a campus rampage? While certain aspects of the Virginia Tech tragedy will undoubtedly remain uniquely incomprehensible, already I am more mindful of things such as our long-neglected workplace emergency plans and making sure my students know that the lines of communication are always open.

But at the end of this week words ultimatel fail in the face of such a tragedy. While I'm sure there are lessons to be learned from this dark event, it's probably best to leave the knee-jerk jeremiads and soapbox opportunism to the people who get off on that sort of thing. Right now I think it's enough to stand in solidarity - both in the flesh and virtually - with those whose lives were devastated by Monday's violence and attempt to make sense of it with the benefit of a more dispassionate hindsight. Today we are all Hokies, and that is something remarkable in and of itself.

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