In a vigil hosted by the Cross Cultural Center and UC Irvine Student Affairs, candles were passed out to hundreds of students, faculty and friends who had gathered on April 23 to give a final salute to all those killed and injured at the hands of one unstable man.
Exactly one week earlier, the sun rose in Blacksburg, Virg. on a truly unfortunate scene. By the next week, the tragic events that had occurred at Virginia Polytechnic Institute were common knowledge, and although students across the campus had already held numerous vigils, UCI felt compelled to officially honor the victims in a formal ceremony.
The event, advertised by the CCC, was also publicized by e-mails sent by Chancellor Michael Drake and included speakers from UCI administration, including Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez and Dean of Students Sally Peterson. Irvine Mayor Beth Krom and Orange County Human Relations Representative Ken Inouye were also asked to speak at the vigil, as well as two student representatives, ASUCI President Stephanie Johnson and Korean American Student Association Rep Rheela Kim.
At 6:45 p.m., student musician Andrew Heringer began the ceremony with penetrating music played on his acoustic guitar. At the end an uncommonly serene silence befell Ring Road as the chattering crowd delved into quiet contemplation.
Peterson was introduced, and emphasized that the program was one of remembrance. As she listed the names of the victims, the wind rustled through the crowd and blew out the candles.
Gomez then read a message from Drake, who was in Washington, and assured the crowd that in the aftermath of this terrible event, the administration would ‘redouble [its] efforts to confirm the safety of the students and faculty on this campus.’ Gomez continued, saying that even though Irvine is one of the safest cities in the world, UCI and Virginia Tech shared many similarities, including ‘stunned sorrow and common grief.’ He further reminisced upon some of the heroes of the Virginia Tech shootings and requested the crowd to pray for killer Cho Seung-Huis’ family who was said to be feeling ‘helpless, hopeless and lost.’
Krom expressed her belief that ‘sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring a community together,’ and as proof she brought a family who worked for the Kids Who Care Club, a foundation that makes quilts for kids who have undergone major surgeries. The children who made a beautiful quilt with patches for each victim which was going to be sent to the university from the City of Irvine.
Inouye verbalized the importance of refraining from letting the actions of a single individual reflect an entire ethnic community, reminding the students that despite everything ‘today, and for every tomorrow, we are all Americans.’
After the student speakers had expressed their sympathy for the tragedy and rallied the students to work together as a community, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Cross Cultural Center Ana Gonzalez related the rest of the week’s events, which included emotional distress, relief and open discussions about the Virginia Tech shootings. She also urged everyone present to write on the two boards set up for the students to express their thoughts, sentiments and prayers. By the end of the day, the boards were covered with such things as personal notes from students to artwork by sororities and fraternities.
The vigil appropriately ended with Diedre Butler’s ‘In the Arms of an Angel,’ the most heart-rending part of the entire ceremony. Some people were moved to tears and sought comfort in the arms of friends, while others sat in deep reflection. Blair Hollingsworth, a first-year drama major attending the proceedings, described the entire vigil as ‘beautiful and well-planned.’
The deaths of 32 people tragically killed on that terrible day brought a community together. Members of the crowd were drawn closer to each other as a group and all race, ethnicity, gender and religious differences were forgotten as students left their identities as UCI Anteaters and became one with the Virginia Tech students. As Gomez so rightfully put it, ‘This evening, we are all Hokies in spirit.’