The camera crews have begun to leave, the lights and cables are being packed away, and the rows of production trailers are decreasing by the hour. Slowly, it would seem, life on the Virginia Tech campus is beginning to inch back toward normal.
Of course, in the wake of the Monday tragedy, it's debatable how soon "normal" can return, on campus or anywhere in the town of Blacksburg, for that matter. But everyone there is willing to try. Which, of course, is the first step in any recovery process.
"[Right now,] it's a ghost town, but I feel like that's the right thing," Stephen Niez, a VT senior, told MTV News. "We were united when we needed to be, but when we're not all together as one, everyone is coping in their own way. But it will definitely change. It's getting better and better by the day. Parents came to take kids home, and [the students will] be coming back by the end of the week. It'll still be in the bottom of their hearts, but things will get back to normal soon."
And for Niez — and some 26,000 students like him — getting back to normal means doing something that most of us usually dread: strapping on the backpack and heading back to school.
University officials have stated that classes will resume at Virginia Tech on Monday in the hopes that finishing the spring semester will help the student body begin to heal. And at a press conference Thursday morning (April 19), University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Mark McNamee announced that University President Charles Steger had approved a decision to award posthumous degrees to all students who died Monday, and that those degrees would be awarded May 11, the first day of VT's university-wide commencement ceremonies.
"The families are very happy about this," McNamee said, "and we are actually going to award those degrees during the regular commencement exercises the students would have participated in with their friends."
But McNamee realizes that these steps are only the first ones that need to be taken to allow the student body to heal. As for those who are returning to campus, McNamee insisted at the press conference that VT "will focus on the students first."
"Students will have choices on how they will complete the semester," he said. "For each course the student is enrolled in, they will be able to make a choice among several options for how they would like to complete that course for the semester, including the possibility that the work they've done so far will be sufficient for them to receive a grade in that class."
That's assuming that the majority of Tech students return to school. There's no data on what percentage of the student body has left Blacksburg — though those we talked to on campus this week continually mentioned large portions of the freshman class being taken home by their parents — and McNamee admitted that the university is not going to force anyone to attend class if they're not prepared to do so.
"We're going to encourage them very strongly to continue in their classes, to get as much out of the learning process as they can," he said. "But to do it in context of what they're capable of handling under the current circumstances."
A spokesperson for the school provost's office said students will be given several options for finishing their classes, including taking a final grade based on their work in the semester up until Monday, and added that there is no uniform solution because "each course has its own workload — some don't have final exams, while others have a final project or paper."
The consensus on VT's campus seems to be that heading back to class is an important step in the right direction — that they can't allow the tragedy to rule their lives forever. And for seniors like Niez and Zach Blechman, it's especially vital. After all, they've only got a few weeks left in their academic careers (graduation is scheduled for May 11-12), and they're anxious to get things moving again.
"I've been hearing lots of rumors about them canceling the semester and pushing back graduation, but I'm not sure how much I believe that," Blechman said. "I'm confident that next week we'll all be back and that graduation will happen. I mean, I literally haven't heard anything, but I'm inclined to say that most of the last-minute assignments might get dropped. It appears that final exams might still happen, because those are still a few weeks away."
"People are going to want to come back, especially seniors like myself, who have three weeks left in our entire college career," Niez added. "Graduation ... should go on as scheduled, but there's a lot of stuff to figure out first. We are Virginia Tech, we're still going to be the same, but it's going to be a little sadder."
Read "Students From Across U.S. Respond To Shootings: 'It Is Beyond Unsettling' ", "On Virginia Tech Campus: 'I Can't Believe This Happened Here' ", "Gunshots 'Sounded Like A Hammer': Virginia Tech Students Speak About Shootings" and " 'People Are Missing': VT Student Reflects On Loss Of Friend" for firsthand accounts from the Virginia Tech campus and additional student reactions.
Go to "Virginia Tech Students Reach Out To One Another" and "Virtual Memorial, MySpace Pages Help VT Mourners Cope Online" to find out how students are coping with the tragedy.
And read " 'The Scariest Moment Of My Life': A Timeline Of VT Shootings" for a timeline of the tragedy.