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Viewed From Afar, Tech Has Stood Tall

by Caroline Epley
April 17, 2007

DIJON, France - The Hokie Nation is a network of people, thoughts and feelings that spans worldwide. As a Virginia Tech student studying in Dijon, France, far away from my friends, family and fellow Hokies, I hope to convey the sympathy the world has for Virginia Tech from a different perspective.

The point of studying abroad is to get out of one's comfort zone to see the world from a different perspective. While tragedy has struck Virginia Tech, I daresay that my safe nest in Blacksburg is not out of its comfort zone. The Virginia Tech community is stepping up to fulfil the role of comfort zone with grace and compassion.

Thousands of miles away, I watched the ceremony this evening and I saw my school from an outsider's perspective. I watched in awe as my fellow Hokies rallied in Cassell Coliseum to create an arena of strength.

Cassell is a familiar place where I've arranged to meet friends for a run, sung the National Anthem and attended many sporting events. I'll never forget getting my student number at Orientation and sitting in Cassell before my freshman year. Cassell has always been a special place, but today, Cassel was more than a building. It was a safe haven, a sanctuary, a mosque, a synagogue, a nation and a world of people who were joined because of great tragedy. Cassell was transformed to a nexus of grief and hope for the human condition.

While my friends and family struggle to regain the lost sense of things normal, I feel as though there is no way for me to console them from across the Atlantic Ocean. I found, however, that my brother was sharing the same sentiments from on campus. He wrote to me in an e-mail today, "I'm not sure quite what to do about all this, but I'll throw on my VT sweatshirt and wander around with my fellow Hokies, searching for some comfort, right?"

I walked back to my residence in Dijon, France, and put on my VT sweatshirt and watched the ceremony with the only other Hokie in miles, my roommate. We've grieved the tragedy here in France together, but we haven't been alone. I found out about the tragedy first from a French student here who will attend Virginia Tech in the fall. Yesterday he wrote to me in a message, "Even though I have never set foot in Blacksburg, I feel the pain…" The international students, professors and community here have reached out to share their condolences for Virginia Tech.

Even greater than the worldwide support we have is the internal support that only Hokies understand. Before the tragedy that occurred Monday morning, Virginia Tech was well-known and highly honored for its athletics as well as its academics. I wish that the media that have descended on Blacksburg was lauding our engineering department for its excellence or once again revving up for a ranked football game.

What I would like to extend to my friends, family and fellow Hokies, is that the recent tragedies and reactions are more than just actions and feelings. The world has been brought together by the fact that this could have happened to anyone at any school. The thing is though, this happened to my school, and Virginia Tech isn't just any school. Our mascot is the Hokie.

One of my favorite stories about Virginia Tech is how the Hokie mascot developed. A Hokie is an imaginary creature that evolved through tradition. We were once the Fighting Gobblers but over time as Virginia Tech fans continued a "Hokies" cheer at our football victories, our community adopted a new identity created through pride and victory. The idea of a Hokie is beyond definition or limitation. In this point of great grief and trial, I ask my friends, family, and fellow Hokies to further define this mascot, this idea, and this Hokie nation as something even stronger than it was.


Comments (16)


I've been concerned about how Caroline would be able to deal with this tragedy at her beloved Tech, when she is so far away from the grieving, healing community. She proves here that love and pride transcend geography. GO HOKIES!

Veronica Epley | April 18, 2007 8:34 AM

To shift blame from the killer to the university administration merely adds more victims to this already tragically long list. There is no way any one could have anticipated this madman would return to commit the most henious massacre in recent US history no matter how convenient it may be to suggest they should have. Keep the focus of your anger on the man who did this and extend gratitude to those who did their best in the worst of circumstances!

Kaz | April 18, 2007 8:55 AM

I have been inspired and feel a great pride in the students and faculty at Tech. Their loyalty and courageous behavior in the midst of their pain is something to aspire to as they go through this process. My daughter is a freshman at Tech. We moved from Colorado and she chose to go to Tech, and hasn't regretted her decision. I watched the interviews and was amazed at how calm and brave those kids have been, and their real spirit has prevailed. I am so proud to be a parent of a Hokie!

Marci Dennehy | April 18, 2007 9:41 AM

Jailhouse lawyer - nice comment to put on top of someone's touching note. FYI - Virginia Tech is a college campus, Iraq is a war zone. There's your sense of perspective (or what you refer to as "proportion")

LB | April 18, 2007 1:34 PM

jailhouselawyer... How can you compare this to Iraq?

Andrew Mager | April 18, 2007 1:55 PM

Although some kids who have died in Iraq undoubtedly chose the service to help finance their future education, the slain students at Va Tech simply picked a college. All death is tragic but these students did not elect to be in the line of fire. Find another forum, Jailhouse lawyer.

Hilda Stark | April 18, 2007 5:19 PM

Well put Hilda. Caroline, I too studied in Dijon France and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I graduated in 2000 and that experience is one of the things that stood out in my four years. As you can see, we will all be able to pull through as Tech is a very close-knit community who love their school. Thank you so much for your touching post.

LB | April 18, 2007 5:44 PM

LB: Who turned Iraq into a war zone? Could it have been George Bush and Tony Blair invading and occupying the country contrary to international law? From my perspective, now picked up by others in the media, is the media attention given to 33 deaths compared to 157 killed by suicide bombers in Baghdad. To my mind it is this which is out of proportion. Not the size of grief you feel over what happened on your campus.

Andrew Mager: Without difficulty. Your chap was intent on committing suicide and taking as many as he could with him. The aim of the suicide bomber is to cause maximum casualties. There is a link.

Hilda Stark: I think you need to be questioning George Bush about all the innocent women and children in Iraq that your servicemen have been killing. Have you not heard about freedom of speech? Why should I find another forum? America lost a lot of respect in the world over its invasion of Iraq. Bush has left you with a legacy which will make Vietnam look like a picnic.

jailhouselawyer | April 19, 2007 4:50 PM

Although I have veiws on many other subjects, I am here to send loving thoughts and wishes to all who have been touched and hurt by the horrific acts of April 16, 2007. Thank you for posting your loving thoughts. Your supportive comments are greatly needed and appriciated.

Ginger Stevers, Blacksburg, VA | April 19, 2007 7:37 PM

jailhouselawyer: Please stop posting here. Please. You are missing the point. We are commenting on a touching story here and you have destroyed it.

LB | April 20, 2007 10:56 AM

I cried all day Monday watching the events at Tech on TV. But the response from Hokies all over the world has made this Hokie even more proud. As Chair of SAE Cooling Systems Standards Committee, I began my committe meeting on Tuesday April 17th at SAE Headquarters in Detroit with a moment of silence in honor of the victims and their loved ones. This is the least I could do. Go HOKIES!

Dr. Manoranjan Dhaubhadel | April 20, 2007 11:35 AM

LB: Why? I don't believe that I am missing the point at all. I, too, am commenting on a touching story. Not everybody thinks the same, not everybody writes the same, otherwise it would be a boring world. Photographers see different angles. I have not destroyed it whatever it is. Someone else caused your grief. Don't blame me for that. The point is to move on.

jailhouselawyer | April 20, 2007 1:19 PM

From the other side of the continent, I can say that the Hokies have shown courage, articulation, poise in the face of the media microscope, and humanity. If there are those who think the world is going to hell in a hand basket because of Generation x and y...well you've shown them otherwise. There is a tremendous HOPE for the future that comes out of this travesty. I'll go into my old age feeling much, much better about the future. Really.

CA-M. A. | April 22, 2007 7:57 PM

I want to say I am so sorry for all of the families who lost one an those who knew one I really am praying for all of you loved ones out there. I know what it is like to loose a loved one I lost my mother at 20 years old and I have two sons but I cant imagine what it would be like to loose a son. I will pray for everyone. I love so close to VT. I plan on to let my sons go there and nothing will stop the school from growing BC of this massive murders. VT is a great school for children. I want to say I pray all the time for everyone in this massive murder. Keep your heads up and be strong and I will pray for you all. I cry to just think about it. I AM SO SORRY AND AM PRAYING FOR EVERYONE. Stay strong!!!

Melissa Ferguson | April 23, 2007 1:56 AM

Jailhouse lawyer is a milder version of the terrorists and madmen who bring vicious attacks upon innocent people. He is looking for attention and intends to upset others. I suggest we all pity him for his lack of sensibility and pray that he find a heart under his narcisstic shell.

John C. | April 23, 2007 2:00 PM