The Collegian
Friday, August 12, 2022

A Pause to Remember Victims

By 7 p.m. Tuesday, pews were filled, leaving only standing room for the 7:30 p.m. vigil for Virginia Tech alumni in the Cannon Memorial Chapel.

Maroon and orange shirts pervaded the more than 1,000 people who filled the chapel, forcing attendees to stand along the walls and sit in the middle aisle during the service held by the local Virginia Tech alumni community.

Both the Service of Evening Prayer Tuesday and the Candlelight Vigil Monday honored Virginia Tech and offered words of comfort and hope to those in attendance.

Acting Chaplain Kate O'Dwyer Randall opened Tuesday's service and spoke about the reaction of the Richmond community.

"Like the rest of the nation, we at the University of Richmond watched with fear and shock as the day unfolded," she said.

O'Dwyer Randall also mentioned a Richmond student who approached her after Monday night's vigil. The student told her he only dresses in Richmond colors, but the first thing he did Monday was put on a Virginia Tech T-shirt "because today, everyone of us is a Hokie," O'Dwyer Randall said he told her.

"From now on, whenever a Hokie walks in [this chapel], the walls will stand at attention," O'Dwyer Randall said before alumni addressed the crowded chapel.

Aaron McClung, president of the Richmond area chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and a 2000 Virginia Tech graduate, received an MBA from Richmond in 2006. He thanked Richmond for offering the use of its chapel for the service and then spoke about Monday's events.

"Virginia Tech is a proud institution with a treasured history ... a tragic present," McClung said. "Today will not last forever. Tomorrow we must rise from this tragedy to pull together the pieces of our Hokie nation."

McClung also mentioned that scholarships this year would be awarded in honor of Monday's victims and in closing his speech, McClung read a poem written by a Virginia Tech student after the shooting.

The poem called for continued pride in the university, and one line read, "This lone hatred will not disable us, for we shall mobilize a movement of compassion."

Virginia Sen. John C. Watkins, R-Richmond, a 1969 Virginia Tech alumnus, followed McClung and expressed a similarly strong pride in his alma mater.

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"We are a proud school -- a proud community of students and alumni," Watkins said. "It is our responsibility to grasp the terrible thing that happened and turn it around."

Watkins also asked the services' attendees to consider their time at Virginia Tech, specifically the brotherhood, respect and love he said they experienced while at the university.

Several clergy members then presented prayers and readings meant to provide words of consolation and faith to a sometimes tearful audience.

At the end of the service, the audience stood to light their candles off of one another's flames. Everyone exited the chapel in silence, reconvening in the forum where luminaries were laid in a 10-foot "VT."

A closing prayer was read, but before the crowd dispersed, a "Let's go Hokies" chant started within the crowd. 1977 Virginia Tech graduate Karleen McLeod attended the event and said there has been great support for the university.

"They're strong," McLeod said. "They'll recover."

Bruce Hall, whose daughter graduated from Virginia Tech last year, expressed a similar sentiment after the service had concluded.

"Tech's very resilient," Hall said. "The student body is very strong. Everybody who goes there loves it. As they said, I think the Hokie spirit will persevere."

Candlelight also filled the chapel during Monday's 6 p.m. vigil, communicating similar messages and prayers to primarily Richmond students affected by the shootings at Virginia Tech.

"This is what we're here for -- for moments like this," O'Dwyer Randall said about the vigil, adding that the chaplaincy received phone calls about services after news of the shootings was released.

Nearly 100 people attended Monday's vigil.

"We gather tonight as people who have been shocked by today's events," O'Dwyer Randall said. "Around the world when people face different circumstances, the first thing they do is cling to one another. So we're all in good company tonight."

President William Cooper also addressed the group and recognized the connections that many students, faculty and staff members have at Virginia Tech, which he referred to as one of Richmond's sister schools.

"A great university always pulls through tragedy," Cooper said. "Schoolyards in this country have too often been places of tragic, senseless violence. Simply put, this sort of killing must stop.

"We become what we digest, and we are digesting far too much violence," Cooper said.

During the prayer vigil, students read psalms and a prayer for peace.

At the conclusion, Interim Associate Chaplain Paul Clay-Rooks explained the meaning of the three candles displayed on the altar. They represented the community at Richmond and the community at Virginia Tech, he said. "Separate but together on this day as one, symbolized by the candle in the center."

O'Dwyer Randall asked the attendees to light their candles from the center candle one-by-one, to remember the individuals one-by-one.

"We light our candles tonight knowing they reach Blacksburg," she said.

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