A Fitting Memorial to Those We Lost

Sunday, August 5, 2007

On April 16, our son Jamie Bishop died along with 31 other innocents in the worst school shooting in our nation's history. We grieve these losses, even that of the 33rd victim, the paranoid young man who turned Norris Hall at Virginia Tech into a slaughterhouse.

My family and I have a proposal to create something positive from this calamity. It originated with the family of Jerzy Nowak, whose wife, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, died on that same morning, Jocelyne teaching French, Jamie teaching German.

Along with our son's widow, a professor at Virginia Tech, and many others, my wife Jeri and I urge the administration to convert a part of Norris Hall into a center for the study of international peace and crime prevention -- as one component in a campaign to promote peace and campus safety everywhere.

Many of those slain, wounded or emotionally scarred by the April 16 shootings were international students or faculty members. There could be no more fitting memorial to the dead, or tribute to the survivors, than to redeem the horror that occurred in Norris Hall by establishing such a center within its walls.

Some believe that no one will ever forget that morning, but as human beings we sadly require fresh reminders of matters we would prefer to forget -- the Holocaust, for example. Hence, the necessity of sanctifying space in Norris Hall to remember, analyze and prevent further acts of the sort that killed our loved ones.

We recognize the importance of Norris Hall as an engineering facility and applaud its remodeling, but we also champion the notion that two or three classrooms devoted to international peace and crime prevention would stand as a permanent memorial and a bold statement of the university's determination to convert calamity into positive action.

Many will disparage this vision as naive, but if Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela had not put forward their naive but powerful visions, the world would today be less just and even more violent. Establishing such a center would pose a host of challenges, but the benefits of overcoming them would offset all the cost and struggle.

Some of those benefits might prove intangible, but they would not be trivial or symbolic. They would include a demonstration of Virginia Tech's ability to respond positively to the shootings and a daily proclamation that, through vision and effort, we can address even the most intractable human problems.

Even if it starts humbly, the center could grow steadily in size and influence until it worked positive change across our nation and the world. This we propose in remembrance and redemption of an April morning too dreadful to forget.

-- Michael Bishop

Pine Mountain, Ga.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company