I arrived on the Drillfield just after 9am and watched the thick mist of morning slowly give way to hints of blue above, soon washed away by a tidal wave of radiance with the rising sun. The day showed all the signs of spring with trees budding, birds cheerfully chirping, squirrels searching for their breakfast and students trudging to classes which are regrettably indoors. I walked straight to where the paths cross on the Drillfield where thousands of Hokies walk across campus every day. I put down my backpack and took out my sign with “Free Hugs” written in an orange and maroon and stood there for the next six hours.
Three years have passed since our tragedy when 33 lives were lost on our campus and many more were injured. I was an ignorant freshman before it all happened, rowdy and careless. I was then unaware of the hidden beauty of our community, and will always be saddened by the heartbreak it took for us to fully appreciate what we have.
I’ll never forget the emergency vehicles racing across campus, the snipers on the library and officers storming the dorm next to ours with guns drawn. I’ll never forget the endless sirens droning on in my head as I tried to sleep the first night. I’ll never forget the fierce and hurt eyes of the girl who glared at me as I walked by with the MTV News crew, which made me ask them to put their camera away. I’ll never forget the girl who worked in West End and always smiled at me, who lost her life during that horrid day. I’ll never forget seeing each friend before the list was known, the relief each hug brought and the significance of the strong embrace of life and appreciation to be there with each other that very second.
This is why I have stood there, on the Drillfield, for the last three years with a Free Hugs sign every April 15th. Why do we need a tragedy to share the love and spirit of our community? Why can’t we just embrace what makes us special—each other—on day like any other?
I have always had the heart of a community organizer which has blossomed at my time here at Virginia Tech, but nothing has made me appreciate what I work for greater than the tragedy that befell our community. To unite and make better a community such as ours is perhaps the greatest motivation I have. In this spirit, I’ve devoted literally every month of the last four years to the next event or activity for those in our community, whether it was hosting a statewide conference or running for town council with the pillars of community and sustainability (issues I feel are eternally interlinked).
As our class who was just finishing our freshman year in 2007 graduates and leaves our community, our campus will have nothing but new faces fortunate enough not to have experienced what we did. Don’t let that be an excuse to not know what happened here or to fail to appreciate what we do have. We’re all Hokies, forever and always. This is our community and it is up to each of you to make the most of it. To me, this is what we should neVer forgeT and why we must live on for 32.