Orlando Hokie Grieves Again

In my life, I’ve made two life-altering decisions to relocate to a new area of our country and in both instances, after a hearty amount of research and a tremendous amount of reliance on my heart, I quickly grew to love my new homes.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

As a Jersey kid, I made the big move to the idyllic campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, an amazingly comfortable college town nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains of Western Virginia. I chose Virginia Tech because the campus felt like home the moment I took my first steps across the famed drillfield. The bond between the staff, students and alumni was as strong and beautiful as the iconic Hokie Stone which adorns most campus buildings. It was instantly my new family and a part of the fabric that came to define me.

A generation later, my wife and I uprooted our young family and headed to The Sunshine State. We thought long and hard about the move, and left behind friends and family who meant the world to us. But, there was something magical about Orlando (no, not that “Magical”) that beckoned to us, and after some intensely agonizing deliberation, we made the huge move, and instantly knew that we had made the right choice.

When I’m not masquerading as a mediocre rock music critic, I occasionally post on Techsideline.com, a Virginia Tech sports community, under the name Orlando Hokie – because I feel that’s what defines me.

The Orlando area is so much more than the famed amusement parks that speckle her Southern boundaries, it truly is The City Beautiful. Our family was drawn by the city’s beauty, diversity and vibrance – all traits that initially drew me to my alma mater 700 miles to the North.

It was just a few years after we moved South that my Hokie Universe was rocked to its core. 4.16.07. A date that no Hokie will ever forget. 32 innocent students and heroic teachers gunned down by a troubled lone gunman. 32 people who did nothing to deserve their fate lost their lives on a chilly Spring morning, doing something they loved in a place that defined them. We couldn’t understand it, and probably never will, but we were there for each other, and that made all the difference in the world.

My heart ached when I heard the initial reports, and I was devastated as I heard additional updates. How could something so horrible happen in such a wonderful place to such innocent victims? People like me, who were likely there for the same reasons I was. But, as the days passed by, we also learned about the heroes who emerged that day and the courageous acts that transpired during the horrible event.

Distinguished Virginia Tech Professor Nikki Giovanni captured the spirit that engulfed the greater Virginia Tech Community in a moving speech the day after the massacre. “We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning. We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.”

She was right. We did laugh again, but not until we had all shed our fair share of tears. As a new resident to the State of Florida, I found compassion at a candlelight vigil on the campus of UCF and all across this great little city, where I was smothered with love from my new Orlando family – friends and strangers alike.

Today, I returned to the country from a weeklong vacation to learn that the unimaginable happened again, and this time right here in our fair city. Once again, my heart aches; I find it hard to concentrate, and can’t stop thinking about these poor innocent victims and their distraught families.

This event will not define Orlando. We are a strong group, with a lot of love for each other, and we already saw the first traces of that with the fantastic outpouring of support at the blood banks today, both from donors and local businesses and residents supporting those generous folks and at the moving Lake Eola vigil.

I’ve already seen a slew of politicized posts about the tragedy. If the National media wants to get into those debates, let them, but we need to let it go. We need to be there for the victims, the innocent dead, and the many others fighting for their lives. We need to be there for their grieving families. We need to be there for the LGBT community, and the Artists and Musicians from our city who have experienced a week they’ll never forget. We need to be there for the law enforcement community who heroically risked their own lives to save dozens of other lives. We need to be there for the first responders and medical professionals who witnessed unthinkable evil that no person should ever have to deal with. But, most importantly,  we need to be there for each other.

As someone who has grieved like this once before, I don’t have any great words of wisdom to share, but I do know that this city and our amazing residents will get through this. We will shed many a tear, but we will laugh again.

God Bless!

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Family members who need to check on loved ones are being asked to call 407-264-4357. Anyone with information related to the shooting is asked to call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI and select “option 2.”

A family information center has also been opened at the Hampton Inn at 43 Columbia St. in Orlando.

The city of Orlando is also in the process of creating a webpage related to the tragedy at www.cityoforlando.net/victims.

Here’s the full text of Giovanni’s speech:

We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We are Virginia Tech.



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