Tomorrow marks the seventh anniversary of what has come to be known as the Virginia Tech Massacre. It is still surreal to me to have my alma mater linked so casually to the word "massacre."
At left is a picture of Burruss Hall. It anchors one side of the oblong Drill Field at the heart of campus. When I was there, the offices that made the university run were there too -- bursars, financial aid, admissions.
There's also a huge auditorium, so the hall used to host rock concerts and other events. I saw Stephen Jay Gould speak on the horrors of state-sanctioned eugenics. I covered a debate between Paul Tsongas and John Sununu. I saw Denis Leary, Kurt Vonnegut, Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale ... if you want to listen to lots of smart, ambitious, creative and driven people speak, become a student reporter and get assigned to cover these events. I did it, and that's how I accidentally ended up with a liberal arts education and a science degree.
Buress Hall is on postcards, it's on school calendars, it's the visual shorthand for Virginia Tech.
In 1991, the Newman Community hosted the Easter Vigil service at Burress Hall. My friend Joe and I went. What I remember: Carefully holding my slender, flickering candle as I exited Mass around 2 in the morning and walked home in the soft spring night. The air felt charged with rebirth. It had been a hard semester for me -- I hated four of my five classes, I had just had a very messy breakup with The Meathead and he had gotten most of my so-called "friends" in the breakup, I felt lonely and lost and overwhelmed almost all the time.
But that night, I walked home from Burress and I knew I would work everything out for the best. That morning, when I woke up, a few of my friends had snuck into my room and left an Easter basket. A peace offering. A promise to start over.
For the four years I was at Virginia Tech, Burress Hall was the north on my internal compass. It was the friendly, timeless heart of Tech.
And it breaks my heart to look at it now and see the memorial to the victims. I believe those of us who count ourselves among the Virginia Tech community should never forget what happened, and I think this is a rightful and fitting place for the memorial. But I feel sad for how the very presence of the memorial will underline whatever timeless solidity Burruss could offer.
The kids who walked through campus over the last seven years know a completely different Virginia Tech that I did. The kids who got their acceptance letters this year are young enough to have never known Virginia Tech as anything other than the site of the United States' very worst single-gunman shooting.
Still, it's the Easter season. I have hope. I want to think that this year, young men and women will walk out of midnight mass into a real spring night. I want to think that people will walk by Burress Hall, lifted by a moment of buoyant conviction. I have hope that a spirit of renewal and rebirth is what people carry when they walk across campus and out into the world.