Vigil makes surreal real

Thousands of students and community members flocked to UVA's McIntire amphitheater Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil to remember those affected by the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Student organizers handed out single white candles, and the crowd members helped each other pass the flame around. Many in the crowd were wearing maroon and orange, and the UVA flag hung next to Virginia Tech's on the stage backdrop.

The ceremony began with several student speakers, who talked about the surreal closeness of this tragedy, and how powerful the community's show of solidarity has been. President John Casteen also spoke about the difficulty of emotionally processing such a tragedy. He remembered four Tech victims who had direct ties to the University community.

Liviu Lebrescu, the Holocaust-surviving Tech Engineering professor now hailed as a hero for saving the lives of his students, was the father of a fourth year UVA student who asked Casteen to remember her father at the ceremony "not as a part of the general description of the tragedy," but as an individual. Likewise, Kevin Granata, who worked at UVA's Kluge Children' Rehabilitation Center until 2003, jumped into the line of fire to assist others. Granata dedicated his research to discovering ways to help children afflicted with cerebral palsy.

One UVA student's first cousin was killed, and a third-year nursing student lost her sister, Reema Samaha, a Tech freshman.

Casteen also addressed community members' pragmatic concerns about the safety of UVA's campus, and his struggle to ensure safety on a campus that also considers literal and philosophical openness to be a critical virtue. He said administrators will review the school's emergency protocols, but they do not plan to attempt the "all but inconceivable task" of sealing up the university.

The ceremony ended with a moment of silence. Afterwards, as a group of students chanted "Go Tech" in the background, students lined up in the grassy center of the theater to sign condolence cards.
"It hasn't really hit me yet," said student Sarah Kate Neall. "I'm still processing the whole thing." She said that walking across campus earlier that day, she had realized that people had been affected by the tragedy to different degrees, and that coming together at the vigil helped bridge the disconnect.

Carey Evans has kept up with news coverage of the catastrophe, but said that "watching it on TV, it didn't really register." She reiterated Neall's sentiments, that seeing so many gathered here at the vigil has helped her reconcile the emotional remove inherent in TV coverage with the very personal effect the tragedy has had on this community.

Kendra Grinnage used to kid her old high school friends who go to Virginia Tech. "Where you went to school doesn't matter," she says now. "Everybody's thinking about the same thing. Everyone just wants to make sure everyone is okay."