Seven years ago today….
I sat in my office on a Monday, sorting through an inbox full of emails. I had gotten to work early to get a jump on administrative stuff (my least favorite activity).
The morning was going along nicely. Nothing significant happening inside, but outside the unseasonably cold day was gorgeous. You know that kind of day when the air feels clean and the sun is blazing by 7 am. The bluest sky was visiting, and campus life hadn’t quite awakened from the weekend.
Simply the perfect way for an introvert to start her week.
I was in the lobby chatting it up with a student, when my supervisor approached. He face said nothing in particular. But he stopped by to let me know that two students had been shot at my school.
I remember frowning because I thought that was strange. Probably some accident, I assumed. Working and living on a college campus, few situations shocked me. I continued on with my day as normal. An hour or so passed and students crowded the lobby. They whispered to each other, looking concerned. And that’s when I felt the energy around me change.
After that, honestly, I can’t recall the exact order of events. I knew it was a shooting, but when reports started coming in about fatalities, I couldn’t process that information.
How could that be? Virginia Tech was the safest university ever. My Alma Mater was the safest school, tucked away in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
I had just graduated the previous year and the Hokie community was family. Literally my family was there, my brother-in-law, cousins, RAs, colleagues, and dear friends. Watching CNN that day, I knew all of them were affected, but I wasn’t sure if they were all still alive.
And here I was at work, on a college campus nearby. I wanted to leave and be with my Tech family. But I needed to stay. The crisis was starting to unfold among the students around me.
VT is the largest university in Virginia and most of my students had friends there. Students in front of me, behind me cried, but I couldn’t. Not yet.
The world changed that day. The sun seemed different. Food didn’t taste the same. My job felt different. Truth is I was different. That day my worldview changed.
A week later I was able to talk with a colleague at VT, and something she said never left me.
I couldn’t fathom what that day was like for her and other Residence life staff there. The first shooting occurred in a dorm I lived in the previous year. Wrapping my mind around such a tragedy was hard enough, being there when as it happened, I couldn’t imagine.
But I wondered how did they handle it? What did the RAs do knowing they had lost a fellow RA and residents?
She paused and said, “We were working. We worked.”
Now, that to me was shocking. But once I let the words sink in, I was inspired. That, in the middle of the biggest tragedy to ever happen on any college campus, RAs and professional staff worked. It was powerful. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they pulled together.
Residence Life staff members across the country face several types of issues living the halls. The work they do is irreplaceable and invaluable. Universities need them more than I can explain. I just wanted to write a story to capture the RA experience—the Residence Life experience. And I did. Because they work when no one is watching, they are always working.
I’ll never forget that day, the heart always remembers. To my dear friends I lost that day, we live for you!
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry,
and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech.
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