BLACKSBURG, Va. – President Bush came to visit a campus war zone Tuesday but found a resilient Virginia Tech coming together to mourn and recover as New York did after Sept. 11.
Kirstyn Godwin, 20, of Atlanta, recalled the New Yorkers who had come to Ground Zero after Sept. 11 to bear witness as she joined more than 10,000 students, parents and friends of Tech who jammed the Cassell Coliseum basketball arena, where Bush led a convocation for the 32 gunned down on Monday.
“My parents offered to fly me home but I said, ‘No, I need to be here,’ ” said Godwin, a sophomore engineering student and volleyball player. “This is my second family.”
Bush brought the same message. “It’s impossible to make sense of such suffering and violence” against the victims, who “were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bush said.
“In such times as this, we look for sources of strength,” Bush said, “and you’re finding these sources everywhere around you.”
The main source at the convocation was Nikki Giovanni, the firebrand poet and English professor at Tech who taught in the department in which shooter Cho Seung-Hui had his major.
The crowd was mostly reflective until Giovanni took up the refrain, arms outstretched: “We are Virginia Tech, we will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail!” The crowd was on its feet cheering “Let’s go Hokies” as if the hated Cavaliers of rival University of Virginia were taking the court.
In an interview with ABC News later in the day, Bush wondered how much his presence at the campus could really do to help the grieving students and families.
“I don’t know how adequate I am to help heal the heart,” he said. “The only thing you can try to do … is show up and express your love and concern and give them a sense of assurance that there will be a better tomorrow.”