Here's the connection. My second cousin, Gayle Whitehead, who used to live at the lower end of Cumberland Avenue and would have graduated in the HHS Class of 1959 had she not moved to Roanoke when her parents divorced.
After graduating at age 19 from Roanoke High School, she spent the next 34 years of her life as an employee at Virginia Tech. She spent the first five years working in the agricultural school, and another five years assisting with the campus newspaper. During the remainder of those years, Gayle was associated with the offices of alumni affairs and graduate studies. She did not retire from Virginia Tech until her son, Scottie, suffered a stroke, at which time she elected to stay home and take care of him.
During those years on the VT campus, she used to enjoy watching the school's cadets march on the drill field and stroll on the immaculately kept lawns during each changing season. It was a peaceful place where she made many friends among students and faculty.
Monday, April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech, with all of its illustrious history, and those, who had ever had any connection to the institution, were shattered, shaken and changed forever.
Gayle said that when the news broke of a "shooting" on campus, telephone lines were jammed in the little town of Blacksburg. So many people were trying to find out what was going on and were frantically trying to get in touch with friends at the college.
Like mushrooms, representatives of media of all kinds, from around the world, sprang up and converged on the town. Over 100 mobile units with satellite dishes filled every available space near and on the drill field.
Gayle said radio and television personnel stopped townspeople as they went about their daily business. Anchormen and women were clutching and clawing, with microphones and mini-cams in hand, at ordinary people in an effort to get interviews. They also interfered with students, families and friends who were in mourning at the shrines set up for each of the 32 victims, as well as, the shooter, Cho.
Television stations played heavy, irritating background music and implored viewers to stay tuned for the latest breaking news about the massacre, as if it were some Saturday movie serial starring Bruce Willis or Kiefer Sutherland.
Repeated images of the deranged killer horrified audiences. Each television network tried to outdo the other with explicit details and were insistent on having information before authorities made it available. The locals were appalled, she said, at the insensitive behavior of the networks.
Had this tragedy happened in Canada or in Europe, chances are the television and radio stations would have played somber music and announcers would have told the tragic events, as they became available, in quiet and compassionate voices.
Anderson Cooper and Greta Van Susteren, to the contrary, have voices that would shatter glass and make fingernails on a blackboard sound like a lullaby by comparison.
My cousin knew, personally, two of the faculty members who were killed; the Holocaust survivor and the brilliant professor from the engineering school. She is also a close friend of the poetess, Nikki Giovanni, who read a forcefully moving poem at the initial convocation reiterating, that in spite of the present tragedy, "We Will Prevail; We Are Virginia Tech."
The commonwealth of Virginia has many fine schools and universities. Frankly, I was not too aware of Virginia Tech until this recent tragedy occurred. The school originally was Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), a land grant, all-male school, in that it had a corps of military cadets and a mandatory emphasis on agricultural studies. It went co-ed and broadened its curriculum when it gained state university status, after which time, it became known as Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).
VT belongs to the Atlantic Coast Conference and is a Division I-A in the NCAA. The school has 17 varsity teams playing in such venues as Lane Stadium, Worsham Field and Cassell Coliseum.
Men's sports include: baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, ice hockey, American football, swimming, tennis, track and field and wrestling. Women's sports are: basketball, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis and track and field.
School colors are Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange to match the plumage of its mascot, the Hokie Bird, a turkey-like creature. The word, Hokie, originated from the "Old Hokie" spirit yell, written in 1896 and is used interchangeably with "Fighting Gobblers" to refer to sports teams, fans, students or alumni. A committee chose the unusual combination of school colors back in 1896, because the combination was not worn elsewhere at the time.
Virginia Tech's fight song, "Tech Triumphs," was written in 1919 and remains in use today. Its band is known as "The Marching Virginians," and the Corps of Cadets' band is called "The Highty Tighties." The bands, the school song and yell, mascot and colors all exemplify "the Old Hokie spirit," the kind of tradition and pride poetess Nikki Giovanni spoke about in her rousing presentation during the school's first convocation, memorializing those who lost their lives so tragically at Virginia Tech.
My cousin, Gayle Whitehead Thornton, of Christiansburg, said she and others feared the good name of the university would be ruined and forever identified with the campus slayings. While it is true that the incident will never be forgotten, the school and its spirit, WILL, like the Phoenix, rise again from these unspeakable, cruel and wasteful ashes. Time will help to assuage the hurt, and something positive is bound to come out of all the misery.
And, yes, Professor Giovanni, your beloved school will, indeed, prevail.
You are Virginia Tech.