Honoring the Past, Moving Forward
BLACKSBURG, Va., May 11
That it would be a day of beginnings, of propelling forward, was clear from the moment the sound of "Pomp and Circumstance" spilled across the tens of thousands gathered in Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium on Friday night.
When the graduates filed in, the crowd was already standing, with cheers already deafening.
About 5,000 students graduated from the school just four weeks after a student gunman shattered the rural tranquillity of the campus, killing 32 people in what became the deadliest shooting by an individual in U.S. history. Twenty-seven of those killed were students, and all received posthumous degrees, their names and accomplishments printed in the programs held in every hand in the audience.
They would not be left out Friday night.
"As difficult as it is to relive that day, we yearn to pay homage to those cherished members of the Virginia Tech family who were lost that morning -- whom the world lost that cold, blustery morning," Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger told the crowd. "We wish to pay tribute to those innocent and beautiful young minds who wholeheartedly joined the university community seeking knowledge and growth."
They had come here from across the nation and from Peru and India and Indonesia, he said. They played volleyball and basketball. They were musicians and dancers.
"They wanted to make their mark as individuals, to be part of the greater world and make it better, and those of us assembled here tonight can attest that they succeeded," Steger said.
Each person killed in the April 16 massacre received a class ring. The names of the students and the five faculty members were read one by one, their photos flashed on the scoreboard. Silence fell across the stadium. Some of the victims' families sat among the crowd. The family of Seung Hui Cho, who also injured 29 people in the spray of 170 bullets before killing himself, will not receive a ring or a posthumous degree.
But as much as the day was spent looking back, it also focused on moving forward. It focused on those who had survived that day, who had worked for years for this day.
In a statement read by Steger, President Bush told graduates:
"Your actions in the face of great tragedy demonstrate the power of compassion and the indomitable spirit of a proud and determined university. We will always remember the lives that were taken, and we hold their families and friends in our hearts," he read.