I cannot recite a single name of the 32 victims of the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history. But that doesn’t mean I don’t mourn for them, their families, their classmates or their institution. Virginia Tech is with each of us now, symbolic of that life crossroad we typically think of fondly, with images of innocence and fun- and yes, memories we will never share with our own kids.
A crossroad we once thought of as safe. But no more.
That’s the real world now, as much as those of use with children do not want to believe. There are no more safe havens.
The young men and women who died there – and all of them, even the professors, were young – were a tragic loss. And yet we indeed gained something from them.
In an age when colleges too often seem to be little more than multi-million-dollar enterprises created to churn out athletes with only a passing glance at a classroom, Virginia Tech – a major sports institution, no doubt – reminded us that collegiate “brands” are indeed more than their BCS and Final Four jocks.
They’re even more than the sea of students in the stands that too often spew insensitive vulgarities toward opponents.
They are our kids.
They are our neighbors’ kids. Our friends’ kids.
They are who we were.
They’re also the myriad student athletes – student athletes – in other less-celebrated sports. While we all rooted for the Hokies during the 2007 football season, we’ve also since cheered their baseball and softball teams, their swimmers and volleyballers, their wrestlers.
Last week, VT golfer Drew Weaver, a Hokie junior, was a sentimental favorite in the early rounds at the Masters. One of three amateurs in the tournament, he shot an eight-over-par 80 in the second round and missed the cut.
During spring training the Yankees played an exhibition game against the young wide-eyed Hokies.
In a sense, Virginia Tech became America’s College Team – even when the Hokies were opponents, and no matter what colors we wear.
The tragedy – and the travesty of it – should never be diminished. The lives of friends and families of the 32 remain emptier by the loss. May they be comforted in the knowledge that the rest of us gained a large part of what we had loss about college and college sports.
For once, we all had someone to root for.