- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Hundreds gathered at the center of Virginia Tech’s campus yesterday for the dedication of a memorial to the 32 victims of the April 16 shootings.

The memorial, a semicircle of 32 300-pound pieces of limestone on the Drillfield outside the university’s main administrative building, was inspired by a makeshift one created in the hours after the shooting.

“We join together to pay tribute to the young and beautiful minds that crossed this Drillfield in search of knowledge and their place in the world, and to the wisdom of their teachers who devoted years and careers to nurturing generations of knowledge-seeking youth,” university President Charles W. Steger said in his dedication speech, the day before fall semester classes begin.

“As a new academic year begins, we must maintain the optimism — that hope and that sense of coming together,” he said.

The memorial also pays tribute to recovering survivors and their families; to emergency medical and law-enforcement officials who responded to the shooting; to grief counselors and other volunteers who helped with the healing process; and to those around the world who have supported the Virginia Tech community.

Faculty Senate President Valerie Hardcastle lauded the community’s instinctive response to serve.

“On April 16 and in the hours, days, weeks and months that followed, many faculty, staff and students assumed roles and responsibilities that are not listed in any university job description,” she said. “And they assumed these roles willingly, silently and without hesitation — only too glad to be of service in some way.”

It is this sense of service and support that defines a Hokie, the university’s mascot, said Graduate Student Assembly President Joseph McFadden.

“A Hokie is a strong, compassionate individual that offers support at a moment’s notice,” he said. “We showed the world that our Hokie community extends beyond Blacksburg.”

Relatives of the victims received the 32 original, smaller pieces of Hokie stone — named for its prominence in the university’s architecture — placed at the makeshift site by the student volunteer group Hokies United.

In the days and weeks after student Seung-hui Cho’s suicidal rampage — the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in modern U.S. history — the makeshift memorial site expanded with banners, flowers, cards and other memorabilia across the Drillfield.