32 + 1

April 16, 2007.  5 years ago today.  Our world, as Hokies, changed forever.

My life as a Hokie began long before that though.  I was born and raised not too far down the road from Virginia Tech.  Blacksburg is, therefore, a part of my childhood and a part of my soul.  There are no other flags flying, no other colors but orange and maroon in my town.  In my town, people stop and say hello.  The air feels just a little bit cleaner and in a few short months it will be sweet and heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.  A traffic jam only happens in the check-out lanes at WalMart and, in my town, the drawl of a country accent is just as slow as the pace of life.  Oh, man do I miss that.

When it came time to choose a college, I had the world open to me, yet I chose to go 20 minutes down the road to Virginia Tech.  Smartest decision I ever made.  I can still remember the speech I heard at my freshman orientation where one of the department chairs gently acknowledged the eccentricities of our school.  Like, "What is a Hokie?" and "I know you may be thinking that orange and maroon clash..."  What?  They clash?  First time I heard that in my life.  I mean, we know God is a Hokie because the leaves turn orange and maroon in the fall, right?  I loved it.  Every part of it.  I went on to make new, lasting, and deep friendships.  I got a top-notch education.  And most of all, I made memories that will never fade.

I remember April 16, 2007.  I had moved away and was wrapping up my very first year of teaching, sitting in a training seminar when my principal came in to see me.  Asking me to leave, we walked out to the quiet hallway and I immediately asked, "Is everything ok?" and he said, "No, Kristin, it's not ok.  There has been a shooting at Virginia Tech.  32 people have died."  He asked me to take some time and call my loved ones to make sure everyone was ok.  My closest friends and family were ok, but I did know of one of the victims (a friend of a friend) and several of the survivors.  It didn't matter though.  Each beautiful soul lost that day was a member of our Virginia Tech family and we all felt a heavy sense of loss and grief.

Later that night, I sat with my roommate and cried as we watched the video coverage.  Huddled on our couch, my eyes couldn't believe the footage of police officers running through the flurried air desperate to save the lives trapped inside that Hokie-stoned building.  How odd to see the drill field, West AJ Hall, and the dining hall on national television.  To hear Matt Lauer interviewing students in orange and maroon who tried to convey the feeling that is Blacksburg, the spirit that is Virginia Tech.  I remember thinking that no one could understand this but us... the Hokie Nation.

When my freshman roommate moved to NYC after college, I gave her a magnet that said, "I left my heart in Blacksburg."  We did.  We all left our hearts in Blacksburg after graduation.  It became a part of us that will shine forever as a little bit of heaven here on Earth.  I miss the gentle mountains of my hometown.  I miss breakfast at Gillie's.  I miss the way the wind slaps you in the face (no matter which direction you are heading) when you step onto the drill field.  I miss the awful music at the bookstore where I spent countless hours folding shirts just to earn enough money to blow downtown.  Stalking people for parking spots.  West End deliciousness.  Karaoke with friends.  I miss what it is like to actually sleep in a loft bed.  Our old apartment (affectionately known as the "J-Unit").  Playing beer pong on a door taken off its hinges.  The taste of a late night Gumby pizza- with ranch!  That feeling that is uniquely "college"-  freedom and energy mixed with hard work and industry.  And of course, the indescribable sound of thousands of orange and maroon clad fans chanting "Let's Go-  HOKIES!"... echoing from side to side until it dwindles to the roar of screams as our football team charges onto the field with "Enter Sandman" playing in the background.  It is electric and distinct...  a sound like no other, an unrivaled place that is forever in our hearts.

The events of April 16th brought us closer and made us reexamine our lives.  32 men and women went to Hokie Heaven that day and we are left behind to ask, "Why?"  We will never know the answer to that question, but we can say with certainty that April 16th changed us.  I hope it has changed us for the better.  That something good has come from something so, so bad.  As I re-read Nikki Giovanni's address to the student body following the tragedy, I couldn't help but think of my sweet Callie, 5 years later.  Her words ring in my ears and take on a new shape after losing my baby girl.  No one deserves a tragedy.  But we owe it to those whose lives were lost to make meaning of the senseless.  To look inward and take a deep look into our souls.  How are you living for the 32?  Did you make a change in your life that led to something better?  Are you enjoying the small moments?  Taking nothing for granted?

I challenge you to live.  Live boldly, live passionately, live to be a part of the celebration.  Live for 32.

I, personally, am living for 32 + 1.  For the Hokies and for my sweet angel, Callie Marie.  Baby girl, until I hold you again in heaven, I will never forget you and you will live forever in me.

NeVer forgeT.

"We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech...
...No one deserves a tragedy.
We are Virginia Tech.
The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
We are the Hokies.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We are Virginia Tech."
-Nikki Giovanni, Convocation address, April 17, 2007