THE BLOG
04/18/2007 06:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Virginia Tech Teaches, The World Preaches

I just graduated from a TV week of Imus Stop Watching to I Can't Believe What I'm Watching.

Blacksburg, Virginia, home to Virginia Tech, is a picture postcard of a campus location, often compared in beauty and architectural layout to another sports-loving Atlantic Coast Conference campus, my alma mater, Clemson University in South Carolina. We who go to such schools often base our choice on the small-town community feel of these rural campuses. Parents feel better that we're in a Mayberry R.F.D.-like setting. Do we feel safer there? Sure. And such safety seems a wise choice. That is, until April 16, 2007.

We realize that there is no safe place, unless of course, you opt for an online degree.

My two oldest nieces, Jessica and Jacquelyn, are recent graduates of Virginia Tech and proud members of Hokie Nation. Jacquelyn lived for a time in the dorm where the initial shooting took place and is a 2005 graduate with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering. She knows all too well the engineering building Norris Hall, which is now closed for the remainder of the semester.

Jessica said that Virginia Tech still represents football games on a crisp autumn afternoon, with the beautiful multi-colored mountains in the background, homecoming parades down Main Street, walks around the Duck Pond and studying at the Math Emporium. She sees a media putting way too much effort into playing the blame game rather than empathizing with the families and friends of the victims.

Virginia Tech should require that for every massacre story the media present, the media will tell a story about what was happening at the university before the shootings, including profiles of the accomplishments of the fallen students and faculty. And why not have the hundreds of world media outlets that have descended on the small college town contribute to the memorial fund in honor of those who died? These media are making enormous profits on the backs of the victims and some of those profits should go back to serve the academic needs of this public institution.

Jessica told me this: "It's so easy for everyone to say in hindsight that the University reacted incorrectly and could have prevented this, but we don't really know that. I never felt unsafe in my four years at Virginia Tech. Sometimes I even thought security went a little overboard considering there wasn't much crime on the campus. I think that if people really want to spend so much effort on this, they should work on getting to the root of the problem. Something was very, very wrong with this kid."

Indeed. Cho Seung-Hui was considered a troubled student and members of the English department expressed concern a year ago about some of his "disturbing" creative writings. One professor gave him private tutoring to decipher what might be going on with him and he was also referred repeatedly to the counseling center. You cannot force anyone who is mentally unstable to seek treatment for it if he is unwilling. Professors are left with few tools to intervene since most of us receive no training in addressing mental instability. We should receive such training, but unless and until a student's behavior is considered an imminent threat to a university community, caution prevails. Rights to privacy trump social safety duties.

The Virginia Tech Convocation was uplifting and hopeful. Hokie Nation came together and showed its proud Burnt Orange and Chicago Maroon colors. On a beautiful spring day, the campus saw the first strong rays of sunshine after a very dark day. Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor, gave a redemptive message reminiscent of Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech. This was followed by hearty cheers of "Go, Hokies, go!"


Jacquelyn wrote this to family and friends: Virginia Tech is a huge school, but a very close, tight knit community and we are all family there. Although we cannot undue yesterday's events and we may never understand them, with the love and support of our community, we will survive this. Neither our university nor our country has ever faced such a tragedy, but if there is one school to show the nation and world that we will overcome this, it is Virginia Tech. I am confident that we will heal from this and will continue to embrace the true meaning of our motto,"That I May Serve," that bonds the entire Hokie Nation. We're all heartbroken that something like this would happen to a place we love so much, the place where we met our best friends and grew from adolescence into adulthood. However, we don't want this awful tragedy to define our alma mater. So remember the victims and the lessons learned, but don't look at Virginia Tech as a place of sorrow - think of it as a place of strength and hope, think of how the students and community banded together after the events of 4/16/07, think of a top academic public university, think of Hokie pride. Virginia Tech will persevere and become an even better university. There is a reason that they call us "Hokies for Life."

This is a remarkably composed and optimistic young woman teaching us about the power to rise above pain and horror.

While our nation responds in shock and grief to the Virginia Tech shooting massacre, the world weighs in with its harsh indictment of our culture of violence. The Independent said that the "slaughter at Virginia Tech is unlikely to dent America's love affair with guns." As reported by the global media monitoring website, Watching America, Mexico's La Jornada said that "the school massacres are due to the pathology of violence and fear that prevails in the country, which has the highest rate of gun killings in the world and where the number of firearms exceeds that of voters or television sets."

Le Monde, which once editorialized "We are all Americans" after 9/11, said: "The slaughter at Virginia Tech University forces American society to once again confront itself, its violence, the gun fetishism that preoccupies part of the population and the dissoluteness of young people subject to the dual-tyranny of abundance and competition. It would be unjust and false to reduce the United States to the image it often attracts - of rages of death to which isolated individuals occasionally yield to. But if events of this kind are exceptional elsewhere, they frequently disfigure the 'American Dream.'"

While I don't disagree with a lot of this global criticism, I know that we have an enormous opportunity here to show our best selves to the world. So far, it's the Virginia Tech community, particularly the remarkable student body, which is leading us along that path. For that I'm grateful and thankful to live in a country that, while disturbingly violent at times, also has an enormous capacity to heal itself.