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Cassell Convocation Starts the Healing Process for Virginia Tech Community

by Anthony Della Calce
Executive Editor
April 17, 2007

A basketball arena was turned into a place of prayer and healing for the Virginia Tech community Tuesday afternoon. A convocation held at Cassell Coliseum, Virginia Tech’s on-campus basketball venue, brought together thousands of maroon-and orange-clad students seeking to find comfort and support in wake of Monday’s shootings.

Family, friends, teachers, Blacksburg residents and other members of the Virginia Tech community joined the students. In fact, Cassell Coliseum could not fit all the thousands of people who turned out so many were sent to Lane Stadium to view the convocation on the scoreboard’s big screen.

Inside Cassell, the atmosphere was understandingly somber. Many people sought comfort in conversations with those around them. But the voices were hushed as a sense of silence seemed to prevail over the dimmed noise. Indeed, many people sat silent, letting their facial expressions speak for them as they waited for the convocation to begin.

It was really important for me to come here, said junior Molly Reed, an animal and poultry sciences major from Boyds, Md. Hopefully this event will bring us together and we call all show our Hokie Pride, she said.

As Reed and others looked on, the somber sounds of the Highty-Tighties, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets band, echoed through Cassell. In between songs, no one spoke. The hum of an air conditioner and the occasional cries of a baby were all that could be heard.

At about 2:15 p.m., the ceremony finally began with the presentation of the colors by the Corps of Cadets and the playing of the National Anthem by the Highty-Tighties.

When the convocation began, Zenobia L. Hikes, vice president of student affairs, offered opening remarks. Hikes moderated the convocation and was one of several distinguished guests who spoke to a grieving audience in an attempt to reach out to the Virginia Tech community and begin the healing process.

We have gathered here to “share in our sorrow,” Hikes said.

“(The victims) will never be replaced in our hallways or in our hearts,” she said.

“With the help and support of each other and our brothers and sisters all over the world, we will eventually recover, but we will never forget,” Hikes said.

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger followed Hikes’ opening remarks. As he walked to the podium, he received an extended standing ovation, which was no doubt a sign of support from the Virginia Tech community.

“We have come together to mourn and grieve all the while hoping to awake from the horrible nightmare,” Steger said.

“Words are very weak symbols in times like this,” he said.

Steger thanked law enforcement for their ongoing hard work and dedication in dealing with the shootings and their aftermath. He emphasized the counseling available to students, faculty and staff. “(We are) grateful we do not have to travel this path alone.”

Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine spoke next and also received a standing ovation. He stepped to the podium, looked around and began: “What an amazing community this is.”

Kaine, who was in Japan at the time of the shootings, quickly cancelled the remainder of his scheduled two-week Asian trip. He and the First Lady of Virginia, Anne Holton, flew back to Virginia to be in Blacksburg for the convocation. “There is no where else we’d rather be than with you here today,” Kaine said of himself and his wife.

Kaine said students, faculty, friends, and family should be grieving. He said anger and despair were natural emotions to have in response to this tragedy. But, “as you wrestle with your sadness,” Kaine said, “do not loose hold of unity and community.”

“The world needs you, they were watching you (yesterday) … they saw you respond in a way that built community,” he said. “This is a remarkable place, do not let hold of that sense of community,” Kaine said.

President George W. Bush followed. Like Kaine and Steger before him, he too received a standing ovation. First Lady Laura Bush made the trip with the president and she sat and watched with the rest of the crowd as Bush delivered his speech.

“(You have) a passionate and resilient community at Virginia Tech,” he said during his remarks. “Reach out to those who ache for sons and daughters who will never come home,” Bush said.

“People who have never met you are praying for you,” he said.

Although it does not seem possible right now, such a day will come when Virginia Tech will return to normal, Bush said.

Indeed, that day seemed very much unimaginable given the current cloud of grief hovering above the campus and the entire Virginia Tech community. But before the convocation was over, it would seem within reach.

As several other speakers followed - community religious leaders and other Virginia Tech leaders, including members of the university support and counseling programs - members of the audience leaned on one another, wiped each other’s tears and shared embraces.

The anguish was still clearly expressed on the faces of students as Nikki Giovanni, an alumni distinguished English professor at Virginia Tech and celebrated author, came to the podium for closing remarks. They were brief, but they were powerful.

“We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while,” she said. “We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech.”

Giovanni ended her emotionally-charged speech with the words, “We will prevail. We will prevail. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.”

Everyone immediately stood and clapped as Giovanni stepped away from the podium. In a time when words seem so inadequate, it was Giovanni’s words that lifted an entire grieving community.

The crowd eventually began to cheer as Giovanni urged them on. Finally, a chant of “Let’s Go Hokies” broke out. It was a chant had been uttered many times within the walls of Cassell Coliseum. But now it took on new meaning.

The repetition of those three simple words took on the task of starting the healing process for students and everyone within in the Virginia Tech community. The cheer was a much-needed emotional release.

“Let’s Go Hokies” reminded the entire Hokie Nation that it can and will recover in due time. Someday soon, maroon-and orange-clad fans will pile into Cassell Coliseum for a Virginia Tech basketball game. And unifed Hokies will cheer not as a grieving community but as fans: “Let’s Go Hokies.”

Comments (17)

For South Korean I deeply sorry for this. I pray Virginia Tech`s recovery and healing in community.May God bless America.

Dennis Lim | April 17, 2007 8:23 PM

As we all remain shocked by the horror that the community of Blacksburg faced first hand, the words of Nikki Giovanni, inspire us, as they lift you. Thank you Blacksburg and Virginia Tech and Professor Giovanni for reminding us of our humanity, our fragility and our strength. Today, we are all Virginia Tech.

Jon Hite

Jon Hite | April 17, 2007 8:42 PM

While nothing will ever replace our loss, of lives, of innocence and of peacefulness, the words of all the speakers helped start the healing. Thanks to all the people all around the world keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.

Thank you President Stieger for your courage and care for the Tech community. Thank you Gov. Kaine for validating our feelings and encouraging our community. Thank you Pres. Bush for your concern and conveying to the world what we have lost.

We've all slowly healing but we'll never forget 4-16-07!

bhaba | April 17, 2007 10:15 PM

I feel terrible for the students, families, loved ones and everyone else affected by this. Saying that I am outraged by the handling of the situation that day, the "poem" which is nothing but an attempt at a motivational and political speech. She has done a disservice to her community. She did not deserve a standing ovation, neither did the university president. The university president and campus police chief should be held responsible, had the right actions been taken, lives very well could have been saved.

Jason Vanover | April 17, 2007 11:10 PM

I sorry for everyones loss. I wish we all could have some answers on How could have this avoided. I know its no ones fault but the murderer who did it. Question is Could this have been prevented.

Nicole | April 17, 2007 11:45 PM

Jason Vanover's comment that Giovanni's speech was political and a disservice is unimaginably insensitive and ridiculously pathetic. I believe he should see a counselor and get his anger out, because it is being directed at the wrong people. Those people that spoke did so as grieving, caring people. And I understand that some people think that the President and police chief mishandled the situation, but how often do events like this happen? Would any school president in the country have assumed the shooter would come back to school and shoot up the campus? Maybe now, after this happened, but not then. Those people were doing the best they could and had only the interest of the students in mind. Its easy to look back in hindsight and see what could have been handled differently. If cops would have went to where the killer was going to go and the school was in lock down, yes lives may have been saved...but nobody knows the future. There is only one person at fault for this tragedy, and the entire world should be angry at him alone for what took place that tragic day.

Trent | April 18, 2007 1:23 AM

Know that the world mourns with you. Today, we are all Hokies...grant us peace.

susan | April 18, 2007 2:01 AM

I want to extend my deepest sympathy for everyone affected by Monday's events. I am deeply saddened at the loss of innocent lives. I know the students and professors will come together to help each other get through this dark time. Know that you all will be in my heart, thoughts & prayers always!!!

Christy | April 18, 2007 8:55 AM

Nikki Giovanni's speech was moving, inspiring and thrilling. Her words spoke of strength, mourning and of a character that humanity needs to hold onto during these moments of great sadness. The world mourns together at this tragedy.

Dave Chow | April 18, 2007 9:00 AM



SERGIO VARGAS | April 18, 2007 1:28 PM

I think Jason Vanover is extremely insensitive and very cruel. Those people gave us speeches during the convocation in order to help us mourn and heal. This could have happened to anyone, anywhere. He needs to shut up and realize that people are doing the best they can.

Katie T. | April 18, 2007 2:01 PM

Nikki Giovanni

After the Convocation ceremony I will never forget her. A black woman, a poet, a professor, and as a member of the Virginia Tech faculty, a speaker at the convocation yesterday.

In a day in which Blacksburg has become a tragic word along the lines of Columbine, this poet showed us the beauty of life to us all, even in times of sorrow. For after her words of life, the positive was heard in the chant:

Lets Go Hokies (Clap Clap Clap)

Lets Go Hokies (Clap Clap Clap)

My sympathy goes out to all that this day has affected, including the family of Cho Seung-hui. But I begin to understand the greatness of what it is to be an American, even a Hokie. For these are the words that mean the most:

"We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness."

Howard Pierson | April 18, 2007 3:42 PM

I have been in shock and still numb like everyone around the world following this horrible, horrible affiar. I hope you will all stop blaming anyone and begin the process of healing. Whatever happened on Monday was unpreventable, it was to be!!! You may even ask the question where was God in all of this. I must assure you that God was there, he was there telling the young man to wrap a cord around his leg to prevent further bleeding, he was there when the professor protected his students by pushing the door shut with his own body. God was there..... protecting the ones who survived and are able now to tell their stories.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of so many precious lives and the families that are left behind to mourn these losses. My sincere sympathy and prayers go out to everyone. May God surround you all at Virginia Tech and your families around the world with his precious love and bring you comfort and peace. I do hope that the healing process is not too far in the future.

Valerie S. | April 18, 2007 6:18 PM

To all the Virginia Tech family:
I am so proud of all of the students and the university during this time of such great pain and sorrow. The world has gained great strength from your courage and support of each other. Hokie pride rides high we will never forget our family members who have left us.

As Hokie parents we are very proud of the wonderful examples of love and caring you have demonstrated towards each other. We will gain strength with each other's help. Never forget that each of you is very important to all of us.

God Bless and Let's Go Hokies.
Carl A. Della Calce

Carl A. Dell A. Calce | April 19, 2007 7:55 PM

Though it seems as if the world has come to an end, it hasn't. My condolences to the families of the bereaved and just like the words of Nikki Giovanni, Virginia Tech will prevail as long as God is on the throne. The Lord Is Your Strenght! With love from Nigeria

Chris Ajaegba | April 20, 2007 2:12 PM

this is the best way to help the dead move on is to pray for the dead so they can live with the gods in the sky!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

James H. | April 20, 2007 2:17 PM


DR. J. LILLIAN BROWN | April 21, 2007 5:41 PM