Depressing and inspiring (from April 18, 2007)

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So many commencement celebrations. Beaming graduates, proud parents.

So many sporting victories. Elated athletes, rabid fans.

This was Virginia Tech's Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium -- before Tuesday.

One memorial service. Grieving students, faculty, staff and parents. Consoling words from politicians, preachers and -- God bless her -- a poet.

This was Cassell and Lane on Tuesday after the worst mass shooting in United States history.

Virginia Tech family lined up by the thousands to attend the memorial, and officials opened the football stadium to accommodate overflow from the basketball arena. The sight was both depressing and inspiring.

Depressing because of the circumstances: A student, one of their own, murdered 32 people on campus Monday before killing himself.

Inspiring because the family, most of them our treasured youth, did not abandon the campus and people they hold dear. Rather, they remained -- to hug and cry, to vent and cope, to pray and remember.

"The world saw you and saw you respond in a way that builds community," Gov. Tim Kaine told the crowd. "The world needs that example before it. ... What an amazing community this is."

Amazing, indeed. Fervent, unabashed and resilient, too. About their school, about their teams, about -- most important -- one another.

Anyone who's set foot in Blacksburg knows. Anyone who's sampled the farmers' market on Draper Road or the art gallery on Main Street or the gumbo at Boudreaux's; anyone who's strolled the campus, from the Drill Field to the Duck Pond to the sporting venues.

And everyone who watched Tuesday knows, too. Anyone who heard the words, observed the pictures and felt the emotions.

They were overwhelming if not paralyzing.

The powerful comforted the powerless, and vice-versa. Voices cracked, tears flowed, and even a few smiles appeared.

Football coach Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech '69) and his wife, Cheryl, sat motionless, their eyes welling. President Bush reached into the crowd to touch hands. A school band played "Amazing Grace."

But the most moving images were those of the students, many dressed in Virginia Tech gear -- sweatshirts, caps, T-shirts. They embraced, held hands and conversed, attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible.

They appeared before television cameras, bravely and eloquently describing the horror, questioning police response and honoring the fallen.

"We have lost the sense of peace that comes with learning," said Zenobia Hikes, the school's vice president for student affairs.

"Cherished and innocent," she called the victims before adding: "Today, the world shares our sorrow."

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