Tragedy hits close to home
Students gathered in Richardson Auditorium last night for a service in memory of the victims of Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech. With solemn faces, some stained with tears, they listened to musical performances, prayers and speeches.
Associate Dean of Religion Life Deborah Blanks took the podium first, addressing the assembled students with deliberate, heartfelt remarks. She emphasized the renewed interconnectedness of the student body, calling the Princeton community "united in heart, spirit and solidarity."
"We dare to affirm that there is strength in community," she said.
In addition to the sense of unity on Princeton's campus, Blanks spoke of its tie to all academic institutions. "When tragedy touches one life, its universal reach reminds us of the fragility and the vulnerability of all life," she noted. She closed her remarks with a prayer.
USG president Rob Biederman '08 also stressed the transcendence of the college experience, bringing the events at Virginia Tech closer to the Princeton campus. He spoke solemnly as the audience kept their gazes fixed on the podium.
"Every college campus should be a place apart; I imagine Princeton and Virginia Tech are no different in this regard," he told the gathering. "Here at Princeton, some casually refer to this as the Orange Bubble. At Virginia Tech yesterday, the bubble was ruptured, and we felt the shocks of that rupture here."
Monday's gunshots reverberated across the country, with President Bush seeking to console an appalled America and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offering a moment of silence on the House floor.
"Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate," Bush said at a memorial held at the Virginia Tech campus yesterday. "They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone, and they leave behind grieving families and grieving classmates and a grieving nation."
One reason why Princeton felt the repercussions of the tragedy, Biederman said, is the similarity of all students' campus experiences. "As college students, we can feel for their tragedy because we too know the sense of safety and security they felt that morning. We must give our thoughts and prayers to them because we are the same."
For some, the tragedy hit especially close to home. Misan Ikomi '08, from Leesburg, Va., said about a third of her high school class attends Virginia Tech. After Monday's violence, she contacted a close friend to check in on her and was assured of her safety. "She said it's been pure chaos, like being in a movie and not really understanding what's happened," Ikomi said.
Jeff Hall '08 has a brother who attends Virginia Tech. Hall reflected on the conversation he had after calling to make sure his brother was okay. "He didn't really talk about it too much," Hall said. "He was in a building nearby when it happened, and he saw people running out the door when it happened. I didn't really get much of a reaction from him."
"Even for those of us without friends or relatives in Blacksburg," Biederman said, "it's nearly impossible to feel unaffected by what has transpired," he said.
Students clapped sporadically during the service, seemingly unsure of the appropriate response to the speeches. Applause was subdued and brief.
The speakers also offered a sense of optimism, encouraging students to look toward the future in evaluating how they go about their daily lives.
President Tilghman was traveling and could not attend the service, but Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson, Provost Christopher Eisgruber '83 and several officials from Public Safety were in attendance.
At an Episcopalian memorial service in the University Chapel earlier yesterday afternoon, Princeton community members remembered the victims of Monday's attacks while searching for higher meaning through religion.
"I would hope that this would be an opportunity to develop habits of prayer and ongoing awareness of the transient nature of life and what that means for us in terms of our relationships, with one another and with God," Rev. Stephen White, an Episcopal chaplain, said after the service.
Eisgruber offered similar advice at the memorial. "Take the time to honor and value your own life and the lives of the people around you," he said.
Biederman suggested the University community address the issue of personal safety not with increased security but with increased trust.
"We should work daily to deepen and strengthen the bonds that make the college experience so special," Biederman told the gathering. "We need to look out for each other."
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