Return to “normal”

Classes resumed today at Virginia Tech, and students will be attempting to go on with their academic and personal lives after last week’s shooting rampage. Frankly, I think many of them will find this very difficult if not impossible. How do you get back into the routine of classes, study, term papers, tests, and grades, not to mention the social scene that is such a large part of college life, after a tragedy of this magnitude? However, VT is being extremely understanding about this and allowing students to base their grade for the semester solely on work completed prior to April 16 if they so choose. While the administration feels that it is beneficial to the student’s emotional well-being to finish the semester, they are also nevertheless offering them the option to withdraw from classes and “remove themselves from campus” until next fall without penalty. Those interested can find further information at the school’s web site.

This was a very sad weekend, as memorial services and funerals for many of the slain students and faculty took place on Saturday and Sunday. Other services will be held nationwide this week, including a candlelight vigil tonight in the main hall of the University of Texas. On Friday, hundreds of students and faculty at our school came together at our football stadium to form a “Living VT Logo”; a framed photo of the human logo, together with thousands of dollars collected at the event to benefit the families of the victims, has been sent to the VT administration to show our sympathy and solidarity. A low-res screen grab off the local TV news report is shown here; I’ll try to post a better copy of the photo if I can find one.

As incongruous as it may at first seem, this tragedy makes me appreciate living in the USA. Stop and think for just a moment what life is like for ordinary citizens in countries like Iraq, where the massacre of innocent civilians is a daily affair. Imagine not being able to leave your home on any day of the week without the real and warranted fear that you will be killed or maimed in a senseless, random act of violence. On the same day as the VT tragedy, at least 65 Iraqis died in four separate attacks; 85 the next day, 50 the next … and still it goes on. Total civilian casualties in Iraq number, by some estimates, more than 100,000 over the last four years. I don’t mention this to diminish last week’s events at Tech in any way, and I realize there is a danger of appearing callous by comparing the misfortunes of others in an attempt to somehow make one feel “better”. I am also aware that in the last week many people seem to be using this tragedy to further their own particular political agenda: for example, the gun control lobby claims that if stronger laws had been effect, the shooting might have never happened, while the pro-gun lobby argues that if any of the students or faculty had been in possession of a firearm they might have been able to stop Cho before the carnage escalated. The Korean immigrant community and mental health advocates have also weighed in with their perspective, along with everyone else who has an axe to grind. This is not a crowd I want to join. But let me just say that I am thankful to live in a country where events such as those last week are still a rare occurrence, and not a fact of daily life. I pray that someday they don’t happen at all, anywhere.

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