This one hit close to home. I don't know where to begin regarding the shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday. I mentioned in an earlier blog my friend Sally who's son Christopher is getting married this summer on Long Island. We were thrilled to be invited to Chris's college graduation from Binghamton University last spring. Chris received his doctorate in Economics and was chosen to represent the the graduate students and spoke at the graduation ceremony. Christopher interviewed at several schools for a teaching/research position and was offered a position with Virginia Tech.
I was out most of the day yesterday and didn't hear the news until I returned home around 4:00 pm. My thoughts immediately went to Christopher and Sally. I called Sally at my old office at Keuka College and was relieved to hear that Chris was fine, wasn't in any danger during the shootings and had been locked in his office as word of the shootings and lock down was spread around campus. He confirmed what we've been hearing yesterday and today about people being frantic to contact family and friends on campus. Cell and land line phones were overloaded, the web-site went down, e-mails and TM were the few ways people could communicate.
Many people are wondering why the campus community wasn't notified of the first shootings earlier in the morning. I worked and lived on a college campus for a total of 10 years. My husband has been in higher education our entire married life. College life is second nature to us. I remember when 9/11 happened. My husband was away at another university in West Virginia and scheduled to fly back to New York that day. Two things I remember vividly - one, getting information on what was happening in New York spread slowly and by mouth. Two, getting a hold of Norman was next to impossible. I had to work my way through the other school's phone system (once I could get through) until I could find the contact person Norman had left me. Luckily, he had just seen Norman in the dinning commons so I knew he was all right and hadn't left campus yet. I didn't hear directly from Norman until later in the afternoon.
Keuka is a small college, nowhere near the size of VT. There is no public address system. Even on a small campus it's virtually impossible to notify EVERYONE at a moment's notice. I can't imagine what it must be like on a campus as large at VT, especially when almost two thirds of your students are commuters.
We lost several students to accidental deaths during my years at Keuka and I know how hard it is for the entire campus community. That is what a college is, a community. In many cases it's a family. Unlike an typical business office job, many in higher ed are much more involved in the "community" than others in classic 9-5 jobs. We're involved with our students out of the classroom. We know their friends, their families, and we live with these students. We see them at their worst and their best. They are our children too. We can be a little more objective about them than their parents can be sometimes. We revel in the growth and the maturity that comes with living away from mom and dad and beginning their independent lives. I can't tell you how many times I saw the change in a student from one semester to the next. It's like seeing a lamp being turned on for the first time, shedding light on what the future will hold for these individuals.
I am so, so grateful that Christopher was not directly involved in what happened. I grieve for the parents and families of those who died. I wish we could promise all the students and parents in colleges and schools throughout the country that this will never happen again and especially not to their children, but I can't. We live in an ever increasingly violent world and our schools are no longer exempt. I can only hope and pray that whatever lessons are learned from this tragedy are shared and used to make our children and educators safe in the future.