I woke up on a Monday morning in April, prepared to start a day that should have been similar to any other college day: classes, friends, homework, meals, maybe an afternoon nap. But something was different. This particular day began with a brutal, unexpected twist–a gunman, running through a dorm and an academic building, killing his fellow Virginia Tech students. This was not a normal day. This was a day of shock, horror, sadness, and disbelief. A day that would change all of my days to come. And yet, this was also a day that would reveal the true spirit of a college campus and the world surrounding it.
I believe in the power of community. On April 16th, 2007, thousands of people gathered together to provide support for one another. I watched millions of people bring a wounded school to the center of their thoughts and prayers. The world around us became one community, reaching out to heal broken hearts.
And we, as the students and faculty of Virginia Tech, tightened our community with courage and determination. As we stood on the Drillfield, we lit up the night. We stood side-by-side, raising candles to the sky. Nothing else existed in those moments, while we felt the power of hope penetrate the darkness. Together, we showed the world what truly defines the Hokie Nation. Our spirited cheers echoed through the night. There was an overwhelming power in that audible reaction. It was a power that can only be seen in the bond of human emotions. We brought our souls, shattered in sorrow, to the presence of our fellow Hokies, and from this, we received the greatest healing gift of all: unity.
I found these powerful connections in every corner of my Blacksburg life. My friends, the people that structured my everyday social life, became extensions of my family. They were ears to listen, shoulders to cry on, and arms to fall into. They were a community that made up a piece of the larger one. A community in which I found the utmost strength, hope, and love.
In that tragic time, I did not turn away from my school. When given the opportunity to pack up and leave, I did not. Instead, I turned toward my school–a place where many people became one. I found one incredible community where, united, every human being could find life in the face of death. Good in the face of evil. Love in the face of hatred. Peace in the face of violence.
Before this time, I had seen the idea of “community” as people coming together for a common purpose. But I have watched this idea expand, becoming a source of healing in a time of brokenness. When people gather, unimaginable things can happen. When we are bonded together by a common emotion of distress, we are led to discover what a community can truly accomplish. And after April 16th, after witnessing the pure emotional strength of the Virginia Tech family, countless others can see through our eyes. I believe in the power of community. And I believe that from this power, we can all discover tranquility in a troubled world.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.