A Special Update for Alumni on the April 16th Tragedy...

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A Special Update for Alumni on the April 16th Tragedy...

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Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 12:06:17 -0400
From: Virginia Tech Alumni Association <vatechalumni@vt.edu>
To: ALL ALUMNI SEPT 2007 <vatechalumni@vt.edu>
Subject: A Special Update for Alumni on the April 16th Tragedy...

I write on 9/11, the sixth anniversary of a tragedy that is etched into the memories of the citizens of the world. No act against our country, and indeed any free society, could have been more horrific or more cruel to end so many thousands of innocent lives in the course of a few hours. We remember that day and honor its victims, especially two of our own alumni who perished.

Virginia Tech, not many years later, was the scene of another horrific act, a massacre carried out by one individual, which was unparalleled in our nation&#39;s history. Another date that will remain etched in our memories. Our hearts continue to go out to the families of the students and faculty who lost their lives, and to the survivors of that day who suffered both physical and emotional injury. From all that has been learned about the student responsible for the killings, some have said he was intent on mass murder regardless of what anyone else did.

Much has happened to aid in the healing of our university, including its extended family of alumni and supporters everywhere. The poignant moment that first signaled healing was when Poet Nikki Giovanni ended our memorial convocation with the words "We ARE Virginia Tech" and then threw open her arms to the audience as they cheered. Her gesture at that moment, and the response that followed, convinced me we were going to be alright.

Many solemn ceremonies followed that day for weeks and months, and grieving continued. At our Commencement ceremony in May, most parents of the slain students were in attendance and were presented memorial class rings and posthumous degrees. President Charles Steger gave truly the "speech of his career" to comfort the audience and send a message of encouragement. Commencement was a new beginning and a significant moving forward from the tragedy, for many beyond the &#39;07 graduates receiving diplomas.

Through the summer, a number of important events have occurred...

A committee, which I was honored to chair, swiftly designed and then oversaw the construction of a permanent memorial to the victims. It was dedicated on August 19th in the same location on the Drillfield that was the site of a temporary memorial created by students. It continues the theme of 32 Hokie stones honoring those who perished.

President Steger requested that Governor Kaine appoint a special "Review Panel" to investigate the April 16th tragedy and look at all of the ramifications of the incident. The president also appointed three special task forces internally: to look at ways the university might improve building security; an examination of the entire telecommunications infrastructure; and studying the interface of information-sharing among internal and external units and agencies affected by privacy laws surrounding mental health and disciplinary issues.

The Governor&#39;s distinguished panel and university task forces have all reported their findings. There are many recommendations that hopefully will help Virginia Tech, as well as similar institutions across the country, in avoiding such a tragedy in the future. Hindsight provides the opportunity to better understand how to identify and treat a person such as the one responsible on our campus, who was obviously very skilled at hiding homicidal tendencies from mental health professionals through most of his life.

The university recently has created an Office of Recovery and Support to offer continued assistance to the families of the victims, as well as the injured survivors. The office offers ongoing assistance to the larger campus community of students, faculty and staff. The University Provost also has appointed a committee to study alternatives for the use of all former classrooms in Norris Hall, and to make recommendations. Norris Hall is no longer used for general purpose classrooms, but has other considerable space dedicated to laboratories and offices. It will not be used as a memorial site or to display any April 16th memorabilia.

At the opening home football game against East Carolina University, we crossed another emotional hurdle and welcomed thousands of alumni back to the campus for the first time since the tragedy. East Carolina opened the game ceremonies with a very generous gift of $100,000 to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. The crowd responded with genuine "Hokies Respect."

On September 6th, a special "Concert for Virginia Tech" was contributed by the Dave Matthews Band and three other entertainers that the band invited. This concert was held in Lane Stadium and attended by some 50,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni. The concert was offered by Dave Matthews, a Virginia resident, immediately following the tragedy. Its comparable value was in the many millions of dollars. The entertainers accepted no fees or royalties. This nearly five-hour concert perhaps signaled the final event designed to promote healing for our campus and community.

I extend a special commendation to the faculty and staff of our university. From Charles Steger on down, all have had to assume roles never, ever in any job description. They have risen far beyond the call of duty in these months following April 16th to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy. They continued to comfort students, near and far, through the summer. As the fall semester began, they emerged in special ways to welcome both new and returning students.

The university also has launched a special service initiative called VT ENGAGE in remembrance of the victims, and in keeping with the university motto, "That I May Serve". All students, faculty and staff are encouraged to pledge at least 10 hours of service to the project of their choice, with completion by next April. The challenge goal is to perform 300,000 hours of community service. The Alumni Association has responded with a challenge to all alumni to match this service goal with another 300,000 service hours within your communities. Go to <a href="http://www.engage.vt.edu/">www.engage.vt.edu </a> to record your service hour pledge. What better way to demonstrate to the world how Virginia Tech pulls together to set an example for others in the spirit of Ut Prosim?

As performer Dave Matthews neared the end of his concert, he began, in a near whisper, lyrics that the entire crowd echoed over and over for several minutes. He sang, and we chanted softly, what we all truly feel...

<b>"Don&#39;t worry about a thing,
cause every little thing&#39;s gonna be all right."</b>

Tom Tillar &#39;69
Vice President for Alumni Relations

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Tom Tillar / Virginia Tech Alumni Association

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2007-09-11

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Brent Jesiek

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eng

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Tom Tillar / Virginia Tech Alumni Association, "A Special Update for Alumni on the April 16th Tragedy...," in The April 16 Archive, Item #1340, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/1340 (accessed October 25, 2014).