Today, April 16, 2017, marks the 10 year anniversary of the terrible tragedy that took 32 Hokies from their friends, family, and community. Hokie nation grieved then and the world grieved with us. Ten years later we remember and cherish their memories, still reeling from our loss but encouraged and strengthened by the progress and acts of love and service we’ve seen. For the first time, April 16 falls on Easter Sunday. Easter carries significant weight for many people because it offers hope and breathes life into situations that are dark and feel hopeless. Easter to us means new life in dead places, and it is something we celebrate with thankfulness, awe, and gravity.
This morning in church, the father of one of the girls who was killed on April 16, 2007 spoke briefly. He described April 16th as a rock that was thrown into our world here. The beautiful thing has been watching the ripples from that rock extend and impact Virginia Tech in huge ways as we grow together.
One way Virginia Tech has exhibited such a strong sense of community is through the 3.2 Run in Remembrance, or 3.2 for 32, which took place on April 15 this year. Over 16,000 people participated. 16,000 people. They came from their normal walks of life to run, jog, walk, bring their dogs, and push giant heavy strollers up large hills to remember and reflect on the lives of the 32 who brought color and life to Virginia Tech. Hundreds of students and community members volunteered to pass out water, encourage the participants as they made their way around Virginia Tech’s campus, and help with various other tasks needed to make the 3.2 go smoothly.
The Blacksburg weather (so often our enemy with its tendency to be unpredictable) cooperated for the 3.2 Run in Remembrance. While gloomy skies opened up later, the morning of the 3.2 featured a clear blue sky, a seemingly trivial but beautiful thing. People from every age and generation were there, standing together to demonstrate resiliency and strength. In cities all over the country, Hokies organized and participated in their own 3.2 Run in Remembrance even though they couldn’t be back at Tech.
April 16 is not a day that causes Hokies to shrink back from the world. While we will never forget and are aware that it has shaped our community, it is not a day that defines this institution. It is not something that we are afraid to talk about. April 16 is an opportunity for Hokies to, while we mourn and remember those lost, stand together in thankfulness for those 32 who touched Virginia Tech. Yesterday I walked with past, present, future, and honorary Hokies. What an honor. What a privilege. What a beautiful bloom that has grown from ashes.