April 16, 2008 — Under a brilliant blue sky, members of the University of Virginia community gathered in McIntire Amphitheater Wednesday on the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings to commemorate the lives of those who died last April 16.
As students, faculty, and staff members made their way down the amphitheater steps, they walked across the familiar secret society logo, a large Z. Normally white, the Z that had been painted Hokie maroon and orange for the occasion.
U.Va. Student Council President Matt Schrimper opened the memorial by recalling what it was like to stand on those steps in front of Garrett Hall one year ago when President John T. Casteen addressed a community just coming to grips with the terrible events at its sister institution.
“I will never forget what it meant to be in that vast sea of students and faculty members and University members who were all spilling out of this amphitheater,” Schrimper said. “In one real moment in our lives our bodies stood here in this place, but our hearts and our thoughts were all in Blacksburg, Virginia — 120 miles away.”
Presenting the service's keynote address, Patricia Lampkin, U.Va.'s vice president for student affairs, called this anniversary a time to remember those who were lost and to take comfort in the collective strength of the University community.
"What had begun as a normal spring day, a mere 11 days before classes would end here at U.Va., turned into tragedy," Lampkin said. "It was a tragedy not in some far-off spot of the world or unknown area of the country, but one that involved, for many of us, people we knew and a place that we knew.”
Lampkin highlighted the legacies of the Virginia Tech students and faculty who died in the shootings. She noted that their lives had included success in the classroom and on the drill field; that they had served as resident advisors and academic mentors; and that they had improved the lives of those around them by doing community service or simply being loyal friends.
"Above all, they were beloved sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives. Tonight we especially remember their families," Lampkin said.
U.Va. undergraduate Randa Samaha is a member of one of those families. Her sister Reema was killed in the Virginia Tech shooting. During the memorial, U.Va. student Chelsea Stenger, herself a good friend of Reema’s, read a letter that Randa had written to the University community but was unable to read herself because she and her family were in Blacksburg for memorial activities there.
"One year later, the pain of losing my sister and 31 others is ever present," Samaha wrote. "But the love and support I have received from the University community, from friends and strangers, has been unconditional. Since the first day I returned to U.Va., I was surrounded by compassion, and even today, as I relive this nightmare, you continue to support me and all those affected, and I could ask for nothing more. One year later we promise not to move on, but to give those 32 lives eternal meaning by helping to implement change so that others will not have to follow in our path."
During the past year, headlines about incidents at Northern Illinois University and other campuses show that the current generation of students lives in a changed reality. While Lampkin pointed to new measures, such as the emergency alert system and modified laws and procedures as ways to deter future violence, she called on members of the University to support and protect one another.
"Yet we remain an open community — 'permeable' as President Casteen reminded us when he spoke here a year ago," Lampkin said. "We value that openness and that freedom and the open inquiry, discovery, teaching, and learning that they enable. Again, those qualities are woven into the fabric of who we are.
"The true answers to the violence that we see will perhaps come from the community itself. New laws and procedures can guide our actions and set boundaries, but they are not substitutes for how we take care of one another and for how we protect and take responsibility for our community."
The memorial service also included performances by University a capella groups the Academical Village People and the Virginia Belles. Undergraduate student John McDowell also performed an original song called "Why Can’t I." Those present lit candles and took part in a moment of silence in honor of the victims.
As attendees extinguished their candles and left the amphitheater, they did not leave behind the memory of those who lost their lives last April. As Randa Samaha wrote, "One year later, there can be no moving on. There can be no closure. There can only be living with, living for and living memory."