- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech’s graduation ceremony last night was both joyous and mournful. It was a time to celebrate the achievements of the university’s 5,000 graduates and remember the 32 victims of last month’s massacre.

It was, as graduating senior Geoffrey Adams described nearly every day since the April 16 shootings, “a weird juxtaposition” of normalcy and grief.

Mr. Adams, 23, a double major in biology and physics, kept attending classes when they resumed a week after the shootings and did his best to finish semester-long research projects.

“I wanted to finish college with exams,” Mr. Adams said yesterday afternoon, sitting at an off-campus coffee shop. “I didn’t want to finish with April 16.”

Mr. Adams, who graduated from T.C. Williams High School in 2002, waited for his family to arrive in Blacksburg and join the tens of thousands of guests who attended commencement events last night and today.

The Alexandria resident walked the same campus paths he had for the past five years on his way to and from classes. On the way, he passed reminders of the day senior Seung-hui Cho fatally shot 27 students and five faculty members before taking his own life: trees wrapped with orange and maroon ribbon; a makeshift memorial on the central campus lawn, known as the Drill Field.

“It’s a weird feeling — it’s a very weird feeling,” Mr. Adams said.

Parents, siblings and extended relatives exchanged hugs and greetings around the sun-drenched campus. The sidewalks along Main Street in downtown Blacksburg were packed with people, many wearing maroon “Hokies United” T-shirts.

Security was tight around Lane Stadium, where the ceremony for about 3,600 undergraduates was held. Virginia State Police officers manned entrances and additional officers — some with police dogs — were stationed throughout the stadium.

Security officers also searched bags of those entering the stadium.

Throughout the day, small crowds gathered at the memorials on the Drill Field. Some paused to lay flowers or notes — small tributes on a day that the 27 student victims will never experience.

The university awarded posthumous degrees to the victims and planned to give diplomas and class rings to their family members.

During the graduate ceremony yesterday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum, nine slain graduate students were awarded posthumous master’s degrees or doctorates.

President Bush issued a statement saluting the graduates and the Virginia Tech community’s “compassion and resilient spirit.”

“We also remember the students and teachers whose lives were taken last month,” he said. “They will always hold a special place in the hearts of this graduating class and an entire nation.”

Tens of thousands of guests at last night’s undergraduate commencement rose to their feet as the graduates filed onto Worsham Field under a darkening sky and spotty drizzle.

Retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, who oversaw Operation Iraqi Freedom and was the ceremony’s keynote speaker, commended the university’s strength in the face of adversity.

“How we collectively bear up to the pressures of unexpected tragedy, how we care for and honor those who suffer loss, how we hold on to our values despite the seductive lure of simple, quick and easy solutions to the complex problems we face — how we deal with such things defines us forever,” Gen. Abizaid said.

University President Charles W. Steger during his address thanked alumni who held vigils, elected officials for their support and others around the world for acts of kindness.

“Our hearts have been broken, but our spirit — that Hokie spirit which has captured the admiration of millions — remains strong, and our resolve is strong,” he said.

For Mr. Adams, the pomp and circumstance isn’t quite finished. As a double major, he has two departmental ceremonies to attend today before driving to his Alexandria home for a graduation party.

Mr. Adams said he will return to Blacksburg for a few days “to tie up some loose ends,” but soon will begin a yearlong fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

“I hope when people look back at it, they won’t just remember the tragedy, but they’ll remember the strength,” he said.

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