Editor's Journal: Virginia Tech Shooting Hits Close To Home; The True Character Of A Generation Is Revealed
BY RICHARD McCORMACK
On Thursday afternoon April 19, three days after the shootings at Virginia Tech, my wife and I put our dog in the car and headed south to visit our son, a senior engineering major at the university. As we drove four hours from Washington, D.C., through the Shenandoah Valley, I imagined what it must have been like for the parents of the slain children taking that same drive just a few days earlier, calling repeatedly to their children's cell phones, silently ringing: leaving messages you'd never want to hear. So thankful was I to the Lord that it wasn't me having to take that drive in a state of panic and delirium.
As we approached Blacksburg, I missed the exit for Main Street, a quicker road to my son's apartment. It bothered me. I was tired and anxious to get there and I had added another five minutes to the trip. I sighed and continued for another couple of miles to the main entrance to Tech.
I had not expected to be on campus -- anticipating a route that bypassed the school to my son's townhouse. We took a right turn onto campus, drove a quarter mile past the visitor's center and approached the big "VT" letters on the left of the road. And I shuddered. Here we were, suddenly at the site of calamitous pain and bloodshed, the uninterrupted focal point of the global media for the past three days. It knocked the air out of my lungs. I struggled to take a breath. My chest constricted; speechless, dizzied.
These events -- Columbine, Waco, Jonesboro, Oklahoma City, 9/11, the Washington sniper, the Amish elementary school, the Iraq war and now Virginia Tech -- are no longer an aberration but are defining the new American culture: one of unfathomable loss of innocents at the hands of suicidal maniacs. What nightmare awaits us next?
We drove slowly through the quiet campus, feeling beat up from the week's events. We arrived and hugged our son and his roommates. They are all incredible people; struggling with the incomprehensible, but maintaining a sense of humor, one of them hilariously mocking the killer's idiotic video performance.
Thank God for the youth of today. Our politicians, business leaders and academicians should stop castigating them for being indolent or ill equipped for the future, because they are neither.
In the days following the tragedy, the students at Virginia Tech defended themselves with the utmost rectitude from a second wave of snipers -- this time the press corps -- and they gallantly rallied around their beloved university, around each other and around their embattled leaders. In the face of despair and in a state of shock, they showed us the future of our nation: one of hope, inspiration and tolerance.
I have three children, ages 23, 22 and 18. For 23 years, I have resented criticism about the deplorable state of our youth and our educational system. There are an incalculable number of extremely bright, energetic and infinitely talented, motivated children and young adults, none of whom have ever been "left behind." Need evidence? Only 12 percent of the applicants to MIT were accepted for the 2007 school year, or 1,533 out of 12,433. "It was very, very hard to select such a small number of students in such a large and stellar applicant pool," said former MIT dean of admissions Marilee Jones. Or how about Stanford, which sent letters of acceptance to 1,715 of the 23,956 applicants, 7 percent. Even a huge school like Virginia Tech received 19,000 applications for a freshman class of 5,000.
Read the obituaries of the fallen Virginia Tech students and you know how much worse off the world will be without them, and that is only 32 students in a school of 26,000.
Our children have been flailed by politicians and armchair critics and pundits, self-fashioned smarter-than-anybody-else people, none of whom were in my house as my children stayed up until 1:30 a.m. on weeknights completing their AP history papers, studying for tests in calculus, physics and chemistry, writing stories on deadline for the high-school newspaper or -- this very night -- reading "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. And it wasn't me pushing them, either. They did it on their own.
It is time for the critics to shush up. We have put a lot on our children: the real-life specter of a calamitous death at the hands of madmen; a seemingly terrorized future with regards to a "generational" global war on terror; the specter of an ecological catastrophe; and enormous budget and trade deficits that they will have to pay off someday, somehow. And dare not mention the cost and sacrifice involved in providing and getting an education today. Our society has pulled the rug out from under them. They're on their own, yet they exude a collective and refreshing sense of optimism and confidence.
The burden of the war in Iraq is also falling squarely on their shoulders. Our young soldiers are courageous and heroic. Their entire generation will be carrying the scars from this conflict for the remainder of their lives together. No other generation is currently carrying such a heavy load. Yet do you hear them complain? Ever?
If you need to experience the future of this country, to gauge the character of our youth and the inspiration and hope that they provide for mankind, then log onto the Virginia Tech Web site and watch the convocation that was held the day after more than 170 bullets were shot in four classrooms. President Bush's benediction was among his finest showings in six years.
Watch the event through to the end, for the final minutes capture for eternity one of the great moments in American history. When the Earth is waste and void, when the darkness is upon the face of the deep, the human spirit does prevail.
At the end of the convocation, after the grieving students have listened to the adults, they get to have their collective say -- in a cathartic, unplanned and exhilarating 30-second burst of energy; a release of unfathomable tension and grief; a redemptive moment that burns itself to memory. As my wife observed, it is as if they were opening the gates of heaven to their fallen peers.
Thank you young Hokies for showing us the true character of your generation. We needed that. You will prevail.
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