In addition to the vigil, the University — along with Dartmouth and Penn — held a campus-wide moment of silence at 11 a.m. to stand in solidarity with the Virginia Tech community in the wake of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, an English major at Virginia Tech, began his rampage by shooting two students in their dormitory. Cho, who was mentally ill, then mailed a package to NBC containing a videotaped manifesto, among other items. He proceeded to a teaching building, where he shot 30 other students before taking his own life.
Cho’s sister, Sun-Kyung Cho ’04, was an economics major at Princeton.
“[The vigil] was an opportunity for us to show some compassion, regardless of whether or not we personally knew a victim,” USG vice president Mike Wang ’10 explained.
“We didn’t think about it in terms of the turnout numbers, but rather by the fact that people who would have liked the opportunity to do this were able to,” Wang noted.
“I thought the intimacy was appropriate and comforting,” added Zach Zimmerman ’10, a student who lost a close friend in the shooting and spoke at the vigil.
Associate Dean of Religious life Deborah Blanks gave the opening speech at the vigil.
“We hope that this act of coming together will signal that our lives are inextricably linked as members of the human family,” she said.
“Those students lost at Virginia Tech are no different than the students here,” Blanks said after the vigil. “Those professors could’ve been our professors.”
Tigers in Blacksburg
Indeed, many Virginia Tech faculty members have strong ties to the Princeton community.
On the morning of the shooting, Paul Hover ’70, a cataloging librarian at Virginia Tech, mailed a bill at the same post office that Cho used to send his package to NBC.
“I wondered if I actually passed this person without even knowing it,” he said.
Hover, along with other alumni working at Virginia Tech, explained that by living and working in a community as small as Blacksburg, the shooting touched everyone’s lives.
“It affected everybody so much that it’s just practically unbelievable,” Hover said.
“If you live in Blacksburg, you know someone who was killed or someone who was very close to someone who was killed,” said Craig Woolsey ’97, an aerospace and ocean engineering professor at Virginia Tech.
“There were connections everywhere and the list is long for everyone,” geological sciences professor Patricia Dove GS ’86 said in an e-mail, adding that the tragedy had direct effects on those beyond the Virginia Tech campus. “Even at the barn where we stable a horse, there were boarders who lost best friends,” she explained.
The support from outside of Blacksburg has resonated with the Virginia Tech community as well.
“I love Virginia Tech; we have wonderful students, a supportive administration and a close-knit faculty and staff,” said Woolsey’s colleague, aerospace and ocean engineering professor Leigh McCue ’00.
“Add to that the tremendous global show of support we’ve had from individuals, institutions and universities like Princeton, and you find there is no shortage of shoulders to cry on when needed,” she explained.
In the past year, the campus has struggled to heal amid the intense media spotlight, but many who reflect on the aftermath of the tragedy were stirred by the human solidarity that brought the community closer together.
“None of us could say that every day has been better than the day before,” Virginia Tech’s Dean of the College of Engineering Richard Benson ’73 said in an e-mail. “But I think we would all say that every month has been better than the month before.”
“It is striking how resilient this campus has been, and how focused students, faculty and staff are on the myriad activities that make University life so rich,” philosophy professor William Fitzpatrick ’86 said in an e-mail.
Though electrical and computer engineering professor Chao Huang GS ’02 said that the Asian-American community at Virginia Tech was originally fearful of the possibility of backlash, he has not experienced any discrimination from the campus community. “I am very happy that this community is very mature,” he said.
Woolsey, explaining the importance of the “little things” students and faculty did to help each other in the mourning process, related an experience when he was walking on campus and saw students handing out hot cookies to passersby.
“The university and the students in particular have done an amazing job of sort of coming together and coming up with ways to heal themselves,” Woolsey noted.