“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” – Tony Robbins
Eight years ago, the world shifted just a little and for those of us on the campus of Virginia Tech, we learned just how quickly life can change. I attended Virginia Tech from 2002 through 2007; completed my undergraduate studies in Math, and went on to complete my graduate studies for a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.
The date was Monday, April 16th, 2007. I can remember it like it was yesterday, all the feelings that flooded and how it made being a Hokie a member of a large family. Our Virginia Tech family bonded over grief for our fellow classmates; 32 people died and 17 others were wounded in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart in the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history. Still, we are not defined by our grief.
“We are Virginia Tech!”
During that time, I was completing my student teaching at nearby Christiansburg Middle School and the day started rather rushed. I say that because I accidentally left my cell phone in my apartment. It was the start of another busy week, and I needed to get to the school early to make sure everything was prepared for the students. That morning I was in the library with my class, when the news of the campus shootings flashed across the television. At first it mentioned a shooting but then seemed like minutes later the number of people that were shot jumped up to the 20s then the 30s. Everything stopped and school was dismissed early.
I remember getting back to my apartment as quickly as I could to check if my roommates or friends were involved and if they were okay. Meanwhile, family and friends who tried to contact me on my cell phone had a brief moment of panic. Once we all had the sigh of relief that we were okay, sorrow kicked in. My roommates and I sat around the TV in our living room in total disbelief that all this could happen in little old Blacksburg. I remember after that joining different faith groups on the drill field to pray and mourn the students who were murdered. Gosh, I’ll never forget that day.
The campus was full of reporters and news trucks for a couple weeks. Virginia Tech, which was once lively and energetic, was like a dismal ghost town. When you walked outside or around campus you could literally feel the weight of sorrow in the air; it was crazy. Just weeks later, I put on my cap and gown and recognized that my graduation day would be different than other institutions. At my graduation, the families of those who were murdered received their degree on behalf of their loved one. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the colosseum. I never forgot the pain that was caused on this day, but I learned that pain can strengthen you.
Four years after the shooting, I walked away from teaching high school students and launched my own video production company, Fresh Level Productions, and through my lens, I get to see people live life, take risks, and appreciate the opportunity we are blessed with everyday to live out our purpose. Everyday is truly a gift!