Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The first day went really well. I chatted with my students before class began, and after everyone had filed in, I told them all to take out a sheet of paper, as we were going to have a quiz.

They looked at me with terror. They hadn't read the book in a week.

I smiled and said "joke." The students started laughing. I think they were happy to see that some things hadn't changed.

We talked about the remainder of the semester, how I was readjusting the class requirements to help them finish with high grades, and what they had done in their time off. Finally, I told them that they could leave if they wanted, but that some of them had expressed an interest in talking about the situation on campus. In most of my classes, about half of the students left.

My students are trying to figure out how to feel about this. So is the University. It was a day of memorials, of trying to decide how to commemorate the event. Early in the morning, the university assembled on the drill field while the bells in Burruss tolled 32 times. Every time they tolled, a white balloon floated up from the crowd. Across campus, everyone froze and watched the ceremony:

When the ceremony was finished, they released a bunch of orange and maroon balloons and everyone paused to watch them.

On the way to my first class, I noticed the Addison Caldwell statue. "Addy" was Virginia Tech's first student, and he supposedly walked 26 miles to come to the University. They installed the statue this year. I think he looks like a cross-dressing female character from Little House on the Prairie. At any rate, he was sporting a little orange and maroon today:

I also stopped by Norris Hall:

There is currently a little debate on what the University will do with Norris. Some people are arguing that it should be razed and replaced with a memorial, while others think that it should be remodeled. Given the history of the University, the crowded classroom conditions on campus, and Norris' ciderblock construction, my guess is that they will keep Norris around, and will probably do little to alter the building itself. I'm not sure that this is a bad idea. In some ways, I can't think of a better memorial to the rooms in Norris than their continued use for education.

The campus is blanketed in posters letters, sculptures, and other tributes from across the country. Squires student center is covered in wall-to-wall banners:

The students have produced a few tributes of their own. Outside Burruss, I saw the letters "VT" written in daisies:

And a paper chain:

There are three official memorials. The first consists of 33 "hokie stones" outside Burruss. Each one is surrounded with remembrances of individual victims:

These surround a huge cairn of flowers, gifts, and assorted remembrances:

Basically, the whole thing looks like a landfill the day after the Rose Bowl Parade.

The second official tribute is on the drill field, and consists of 32 sign boards:

People have used these boards to write messages to the victims and to Tech itself:

My favorite memorial was set up by the Campus ministries. It is a few yards of string with 33 pieces of white cloth. Surrounding the cloth are ribbons on which people write their messages to the school and the victims.

I like this memorial because it is so alive. At times, it's a little too alive, as the ribbons can do some serious damage when whipped around by the wind. However, it's the lightest of the memorials, and the most comforting. There's something powerful about seeing the memories and kind wishes dancing in the air.

Tech is still trying to figure out how it will embrace this tragedy, and how it will fashion its memorialization. It's pretty amazing to watch the school slowly decide how it will form its institutional memory. In the meantime, the students are getting commemorative tattoos:

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  • That's truly amazing. I agree with you that the ribbons and cloth memorial is the prettiest.

    Lots of love.

    By Blogger misanthropster, At April 24, 2007 at 2:42 PM  

  • It is important to grieve. To tell stories, share memories and feelings. I appreciate the commentary and the photos, they are truly well done. Thank you. Hope you are well.

    By Blogger The CEO, At April 24, 2007 at 4:05 PM  

  • I am glad that your students have someone as intelligent, kind and sensitive as you to unburden themselves to, if they choose. Even if they choose not to, it surely helps to know that you are there, helpng them try to make sense out of that which does not.

    Sometimes, intention is all we have.

    Warmest wishes to you and to everyone at VT.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At April 24, 2007 at 6:27 PM  

  • I think that banding together, mourning together and dealing with it all it helpful. thank you for cronicling these events. Again I am glad you are safe and sound and your students can view you as a stabilizing force.

    By Blogger Pickled Olives, At April 24, 2007 at 6:53 PM  

  • Misanthropster-
    I wish you could be here to see it. It's wonderful.

    I hope you are well, too. Thanks for listening to the stories!

    I love that line: "Sometimes intention is all we have." I just hope that goodwill can prevail, particularly with regard to the asian-american students at Tech.

    It feels important to chronicle everything that's happening, although I feel like I need to take a little break. I think the next post will be on something totally unrelated. Thank you for all your concern!

    By Blogger Crankster, At April 24, 2007 at 7:57 PM  

  • Your next post should delve into fecal matters or sex fantasies.

    You deserve a little respite.

    Go on...

    Poopies and sexy bottoms...

    You know you wanna...

    By Blogger Scott from Oregon, At April 24, 2007 at 9:53 PM  

  • I have sat here and thought about this. I knew I wanted to make a comment, but finding something appropriate to say was a more difficult task than expected. I've watched your reactions to tragic happenings at your school, seen your obvious and overwhelming concern for your students, and I have seen how good of a person you are shine through all the ugliness and confusion. [God forbid] If I am ever faced with anything on the scale of what has gone on there, I hope I can handle it with as much grace as you have.

    Hugs. Carry on.

    By Blogger Deb, At April 25, 2007 at 4:35 AM  

  • I like the ribbons in the wind too - you are right there is something so alive about it and reminded me so much of the poems by Mary Frye 'do not stand at my grave and weep' and Rossettis 'Remember'... You are a credit to your profession Cranky and a shining light to your students.

    If you truly want to post about something different to take your mind off the subject, I sent you a big ass music meme but as I said to everyone I sent it - its not compulsory..

    By Blogger Judith, At April 25, 2007 at 5:44 AM  

  • I appreciate the pics and news from the front. It helps me get my mind around the tragedy in a way the news just can't. The tat seems good to me somehow; a mark on the outside to match the one forever on the heart.

    By Blogger Spellbound, At April 25, 2007 at 7:38 AM  

  • Scott-
    Actually, Slaghammer at Alchemy, Anyone? just wrote the final word on poopy bottoms. I live in his shadow. I'm working on the insanely brutal music blog that Judith developed.

    Thank you so much, both for the comment, and for commenting! I can't tell you how much that means. In some ways, this feels like parenting, kicked up a notch--I'm constantly aware of the damage I could do.

    So far, so good...

    How funny that you should mention that meme. I've been working on it!

    I think you're right about the tat. It also gives the students a way to commemorate something important to them, and internalize it (ironically enough).

    By Blogger Crankster, At April 25, 2007 at 8:18 AM  

  • Just ((((Hugs)))))

    By Blogger Odat, At April 25, 2007 at 11:14 AM  

  • What a great teacher you are! Those kids must be desperate for anything light. I like the fluttery memorial the best too. Reminds me of the Tibetan prayer flags. Best to you.


    By Blogger Lee, At April 25, 2007 at 11:20 AM  

  • It is uplifting to see that your students and the university is moving forward. Of this tragedy the best that can come is unity and hopefully we can prevent this violence from occurring in the future.

    My heart is with you all.

    By Blogger Danielle, At April 25, 2007 at 1:26 PM  

  • Hmmm, I'm not sure how I feel about all this. I admire the tenacity and human spirit, I admire the empathy and compassion, I know that you are a man of good intentions and integrity. The tributes are sincere, the grief is palpable but how strange it all is. Crazy world.

    Good luck with the rest of the week - I guess this is only the beginning.


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At April 26, 2007 at 5:27 AM  

  • Odat-
    I feel warm! Thank you.

    How the hell did you embed a link in a comment. That aside, what a beautiful picture. I think it probably inspired the campus ministries.

    Everyone feels so close right now. I hope it will last for a while. Thanks for your warm wishes!

    Fair point. I was recently talking to a few students about institutional memory, and how we turn events into history. I'm seeing it happen right now, and it is somewhat bizarre.

    By Blogger Crankster, At April 26, 2007 at 12:15 PM  

  • Cranks, thank you for the pictures and thoughts. It's like a little taste of home (and it tastes good).

    By Blogger William, At April 26, 2007 at 7:59 PM  

  • Wil mentioned your blog in a chat last night. I was trying to reconcile some of the "Hokie Nation" and the slow "Go Hokies" cheers at some of the memorials in the last week. Your page reminded me that the students there are desperately trying to figure out this tragedy and being from a school that greatly values its mascots and icons would only naturally incorporate them into their expressions of grief. Guess that's what I get for going to schools with meaningless mascots and no tangible sense of identity. Thanks for the insight into your world.

    By Anonymous Wil's Brother, At April 27, 2007 at 4:20 PM  

  • That was truly an awesome set of road-trip-photographs. Good effort!

    By Blogger Orhan Kahn, At May 1, 2007 at 1:04 AM  

  • Will-
    I think that might be the first time I've been accused of good taste. Thanks!

    Will's brother-
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. For me, the best thing about all this has been seeing Tech integrate its icons but leave behind the constant jingoism that always left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm proud of how the Tech community has handled this.

    Orhan Kahn-
    Thanks! And thanks for dropping by!

    By Blogger Crankster, At May 1, 2007 at 10:42 PM  

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