Thursday, April 16, 2009

We Are Virginia Tech - Nikki Giovanni


We Are Virginia Tech. We are sad today and we will be sad for quite a while…We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly. We are brave enough to bend to cry. And sad enoughto know we must laugh again. We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it. But neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS. Neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory. Neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water. Neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy. We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open hearts and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibilities.

We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies!

We will …prevail! We will prevail! We will prevail! WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH

---Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni's Speech We Are Virginia Tech

It's hard to believe it's been two years. Two whole years since that bleak and numbing April day. In my line of work I've read thousands of essays by high schoolers trying to describe the most important event in their lives. Often these students describe a painful loss, and yet they struggle to go beyond the obvious. I can't fault them. Suffering an unexpected and unwanted loss paralyzes us. We feel angry; we feel the world is unfair; we feel God wronged us; we feel hopeless; we feel powerless; we feel unbearable sadness; we feel guilt; we feel unsure about what we thought to be true. Having our beliefs tested is one of the things that makes us human. That might be a pessimistic view of life, but at some point each of us will arrive at a moment where what we believed---the central tenants of the way we have lived our lives---will be shattered. In the aftermath, there is no shortage of things to analyze and dissect. After all the stages of grieving have taken their course we are left with ourselves and what we believe.

I'm not going to break down Professor Giovanni's speech as a poem. It's more than a poem, so much more. Clearly, she wrote as a poet, threading metaphors and similes, listening to her language, digging for difficult images, and crafting a resounding and stirring refrain. But I can't dissect this piece of writing. What she wrote about is personal; what she wrote about is me. I am Virginia Tech, and I know thousands of folks who that phrase applies to. Together, we are Virginia Tech. And all of us that are a part of this global community, stretching far beyond our beloved Blacksburg, needed her words two years ago. I've never seen the power of the written word, the power of poetry, like I did in Professor Giovanni's speech. What courage and strength it took to speak for our whole community, to remind us in a line echoing Whitman that “we are better than we think, and not quite what we want to be.” For those out there who believe poetry is dying, notice that Professor Giovanni, a poet, delivered her words and coaxed our community to feel pride and togetherness, to remember who we were and what we were together capable of. It's often said, sometimes in a derogatory manner, that poets are dreamers---Let it also be said that when tragedy strikes, poets summarize our grief so that it might be just a little more manageable, and as Professor Giovanni showed us, poets reignite and galvanize our ability to dream.

This past weekend I was in Blacksburg for Easter. Mass was held in the Commonwealth Ballroom in Squires Student Center. Walking around before mass, I went from one glass case to the next, all containing items relating to April 16th 2007. It was a museum of sorts to the tragedy: to the people we lost, to the people who worked to save lifes, to the people who lost someone, to the students, to the faculty, to the staff, to the alumni, to the whole Virginia Tech community. There were quilts. There were beautiful, life-like drawings and painting of all 32 victims. There were cards and banners with supportive wishes and words from around the globe. The only thing I could think as I walked from “exhibit” to “exhibit” was this: I don't know that we'll ever heal, and I'm not sure this isn't how it's supposed to be. I can only speak for myself, and I am just one of many Hokies, but I wonder if it still hurts and it will always hurt because if we completely heal then we might be susceptible to forgetting. To forget the tragic event itself would not be a bad thing, but to forget the people we lost---the shining examples of why our community is so special---well, that would be a travesty. We continue to invent the future and we prevail in so many ways, but these tasks will forever be in-progress. Without a conclusion in sight, not wanting to conclude, we remember and we repeat “We are Virginia Tech.”

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