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Times of Our Lives

by Megan Cummings; University of Richmond

The tragic events at Virginia Tech are ultimately not about violence and tragedy,  but about the endurance of a community.  It is a community that will mourn its 33 victims, but will continue its mission of education and tradition.  This community extends from the Lane football stadium to the town of Blacksburg, to all of Hokie Nation, and is bound by tradition.  It is incomprehensible that one of its members could feel so much anger and hatred that he would defect from this community and attempt to destroy it in such a reprehensible way.

As a Virginia resident in my senior year at the University of Richmond, I have ties to this Hokie community.  Some of my high-school classmates, neighbors and fellow lifeguards are Hokies.  I'm connected to them not only through Facebook and AIM, but also by the fact that we are all college students experiencing the most exciting and intellectually stimulating time of our lives.

As I watched the horrific images and news unfold this week, however, I fell into a numb state of hypnotic helplessness.  The community of higher education was under attack from within.  The only source of consolation was that the attack didn't happen in Richmond.

But what if it had? The thought of someone staring at me down the barrel of a gun during my Tuesday-morning Renaissance French class is sickening.  The thought of having to rely on the quick thinking of a professor or my peers to stay alive is sobering.  One member of the community would be saving me from the destruction of another.  

As criticism about whether administrators and police at Virginia Tech acted appropriately to protect their students, I wondered how my university would react.  Could I count on faculty and staff to keep me safe in such an out-of-control situation? I reasoned that at Richmond, where 92 percent of the 3,000 undergraduate population lives on campus, I could reasonably expect the small community to take care of me.  But is it reasonable to expect the same protection and attention at a university of more than 26,000 students? I don't know.  How much prevention can you ever really guarantee?

There is no doubt that the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was a troubled student who concerned many members of the Virginia Tech community.  Although Cho had the right to express feelings of violence and hatred in his writings, it's evident that restrictive privacy laws made it too difficult for faculty and students to voice their concerns about his writings' content.  There were community members who cared about his well-being; why did the system let them all down? The situation raises the question of how to balance the rights of an individual with the rights and needs of the whole community.

Of all the survivors at Virginia Tech, the seniors who are scheduled to graduate May 11 are the ones I sympathize with most.  They are my direct peers.  As seniors, we're told to treasure these last few weeks of college as the best times of our lives; never mind college — these seniors are now treasuring the preservation of their lives.  I hope they will not let the memory of April 16 define their amazing four years at Tech.  

These seniors are part of a community of more than 28,000 students and faculty who are serious about what it means to be a Hokie.  I was deeply moved when I saw this Hokie pride burst out during the April 17 convocation.  A sea of maroon and orange rose to its feet to proclaim the might of the Hokies.  "Let's Go Hokies!" the crowd shouted repeatedly in unison.  From my apartment in Richmond, I joined my peers in this cheer of encouragement, hope and optimism. S

Megan Cummings, of Falls Church, is a senior majoring in French and journalism at UR. She was a reporter, copy editor and circulation manager for UR's student-run newspaper, The Collegian.

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