On Monday morning (April 23), students at Virginia Tech returned to class for the first time since last week's tragic events, which left 32 dead and 29 others wounded.
We reached out to several of the students we met last week on the campus to talk about how it feels to return to school after such a traumatic event (see " 'Things Will Get Back To Normal': What's Next For VT Students"). While all Virginia Tech students were given the option of taking the grades they'd earned thus far, giving them time to return home to deal with the aftermath of the shootings, these students remained behind — to finish what they'd started and support one another.
All seemed to agree that resuming their usual routine was instrumental to the healing process — and all are glad that the international media is starting to pull back. Here's what they had to say:
Sarah Murphy, freshman: "The campus is going to take awhile to recover, but everywhere you look you can see everyone together. Since we're all going through this together, I feel that the change back to normal will happen sooner than later. All the teachers have been very understanding. We have to remember that they lost some of their own too. Campus is getting better with most of the media off of the campus. However, I'm sure with all of the memorial services happening this week there will be some media. They do need to leave us alone. We are trying to heal, and it is already hard enough. We don't need to add a camera into the mix."
Elyse Ward, senior: "This morning, I forced myself to wake up after only two hours of sleep to attend a 7:15 moment of silence at A.J. Hall. The media that was there were very, very intrusive, still jamming cameras into crying faces. After the second moment of silence on the Drillfield, I went back to my photography class for the first time since the shootings. I wanted so badly to see all of the familiar faces. I think that the only thing worse than staying here right now is leaving this place. It's painful, but getting back into a schedule is important to me. I know that if I let myself become paralyzed by this, I might not ever recover. Seeing my classmates and my teacher this morning was wonderful, and summer cannot come slowly enough."
Jason Klein: "It was hard to drive back to campus this morning thinking of how I was doing the same exact thing one week ago when tragedy struck our campus. I was headed to the same class that I was going to last Monday, and it was just hard to think that when I was on my way to campus, my other classmates were losing their lives. The moment of silence at 9:45 was very touching, as they would ring the bell and then let one white balloon up in the air. They repeated this 32 times. It will be tough to get back into the swing of things, but we will do it ...we are the Hokies."
Danielle Cook, senior: "I think it really sunk in when everyone got back. On campus, everywhere you turn is a reminder. There are posters of support everywhere, counselors on standby, memorials, students in tears. I stepped over a dried pool of blood that they haven't been able to get out of the concrete going to my second class. It feels sick. I think everyone just wants to finish up work and go home. Right now, it's not the Virginia Tech we know."
Bryce Carter, freshman: "I dreaded the 8 a.m. walk to class but found myself amazed at the student presence. The classroom was still nearly filled. Our collective spirit is keeping us strong and united, and after a few words and an explanation of our grading policy, my teachers began to teach. The courage for them to press on is amazing and encouraging to us all. I spent a few hours walking around the Drillfield talking with various media outlets, and most of them have said they are tired covering the story — that it is difficult for them to ask for interviews. Some press said they have kept their distance, others give the excuse that it is their job to approach people. As I talked with a reporter from Fox (a very nice man), he pointed out a reporter doing a story nearly on top of the flower memorial, getting in the way of mourners. It appears after [Monday] things will settle down in terms of the media, and we finally can begin to recover, but every single student I have talked to has had a scar left because of them. It is very sad. If I may say some recommendations for them in the future: Don't become the story. Stay back and wait for us to come to you. If we want to share our experiences we will come."
Heidi Dull, sophomore: "Getting back to classes has been one of the strangest things yet. It feels really good to see my classmates and teachers and to see so many people on campus talking and laughing. However, the reality of the tragedy is still vivid in everyone's minds. In classes, it's almost as if teachers don't know what to say, which makes perfect sense because words can't really explain our emotions even now. The university has done a fantastic job of giving students choices on how to finish out the year. Through this, the administration has shown how deeply they care about all of us students here at Virginia Tech. It still amazes me that out of such a horrific event, we as a community have become even closer. Seeing people back here at school, on campus and around the community, feels better than ever. It really makes me thankful to be in such a wonderful place."
Tanner McKibben, senior: "[Monday] was beautiful in Blacksburg. Perfect weather and a nice ceremony to start the day off with a bell ringing and balloons. Classes were tough. Both of my teachers had a tough time keeping the tears back. I feel fine, and all the teachers have been very cooperative. I have one test left to do and that's it. It was very nice to see everyone in the Blacksburg community join together once again, and I'm very proud to be a Hokie."
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.