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neVer forgeT: April 16, 2007

April 15, 2013

Virginia Tech HokiesWhat follows is the essay I wrote for my college applications a few years ago. It is still just as applicable today, as demonstrated by my wrist. Tomorrow, as with every April 16, I will pause and remember the events that occurred on a college campus only a few hours away from my middle school. I look at it with different eyes than I did back then, but I still take away a similar message: that we never think anything like the Virginia Tech Massacre will occur where we are, but it can, and we must live each day with kindness, love, and hope.

Every April, I wear a maroon and orange bracelet around my wrist. I received this “Go Hokies” bracelet in 2007 after an event occurred that altered my perception of the world forever. The Virginia Tech Massacre shocked my community and my own sense of reality.

When I took my seat on school bus 148 one April day in eighth grade, I heard the mutters of students behind me, whispering about a shooter at a state college and teachers being worried for their children—the ones who attended Virginia Tech that day. As soon as I arrived home that afternoon, I flipped on the news and saw the crawler on the bottom of the screen: Virginia Tech Massacre. Goose bumps enveloped my entire body, my mouth went dry, and my watery eyes glued themselves to the screen, as I watched interview after interview of students, teachers, police officers, and other eye-witnesses recount the morning’s events.

I watched MSNBC from 3:30 to 6:30 that evening, which was when I changed the station to hear Brian Williams make a statement about remembering where we were when the deadliest mass shooting at a school in United States history occurred. I was in Mrs. Webb’s Earth Science class at Pocahontas Middle School.

The next day, Tuesday, I went back to school with a new attitude— more observant of my peers and more gracious toward my teachers. In Virginia, everyone knows someone who goes to Virginia Tech. My eighth grade classmates and I did not know how to react to such a horrific event occurring 207 miles from our 7-year-old, high standardized test scoring, perfect middle school in an elegant suburban neighborhood, but for certain, each of us was scared for our friends at the university and nervous about how the massacre would impact our lives as middle school students. Following that day, we would listen when someone shared a journal entry in English class, help each other  if Algebra was not “clicking” right away, actually pay attention to and respect  the student teacher in World History, and lend a hand when cleaning beakers in Physical Science. This one event brought us together, showing us that doing thoughtful, every day things for each other really does matter.

Whenever I look back on this day, I think about how much of a better person it made me, for it truly made me see the significance of kindness. When we walk up to people, we never know what is going on inside their heads. We do not know if they are distraught or are going through a distressing time in their lives. We do not have control over that. We do, however, have control over ourselves and what we say or how we act around them. The value of kindness is immeasurable. What we say and do can have a profound effect on people, while what we do not say and do not do can have an even greater effect. Being kind— saying “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” no matter how cliché they sound— is one of the best gifts we can give someone. We need to be kind and do things for the people we care about, for we never know when our last day with someone we love could be.

When 32 students were killed on the campus of Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, the lives of people in my suburban school district were rocked to their cores. We were firm believers in the “something like that could never happen to me” mentality. When this mindset was disproven, I started to understand that bad, awful, horrific things can happen anywhere in the world, even at a safe school in a prosperous state. I also realized we cannot live our lives in fear that something like that massacre will happen again; instead, we have to live each day fully—with care, laughter, and love in every moment. We cannot act like nothing ever happened because a terrible event did occur, and we were affected by it. We just have to keep moving forward, and that is how I live my life.

When I wear my bracelet, people ask me what it is for, and most of the time, they think I wear it to support Virginia Tech athletics. In reality, I view this bracelet as a small reminder to myself of what happened that day and its impact, and this bracelet represents the fact that I will never forget.

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