Monday, April 16, 2012

We Will Prevail. We Are Virginia Tech.

Today is April 16, 2012, five years to the day when the massacre at the place I now call my home occurred. 32 lives lost, the worst tragedy of its kind. And as I sit here writing this entry, there is no place in the world that I would rather travel to right now than Blacksburg, Virginia. For the first time this semester, it pains me to be in London. I would give anything to be home.

It was certainly a complicated chain of events that led me home to Tech, and I thank God that it did. Had it not been for my hatred of all things sorority and fraternity as a senior in high school, I would most likely now find myself a Demon Deacon (anyone who knows me now may see the irony in that). Or the near loss of a high school friend, which showed me that being over 2000 miles away in California or Washington, far from my family and friends, wasn’t right for me at that point in my life. Or that gut feeling I was given the moment I stepped onto Villanova’s campus, telling me that I would not be attending. Or my mother’s suggestion to stop by Virginia Tech as we drove by Blacksburg on our way to visit other schools, even though I knew it would be much too big for my liking. Or my acceptance into the Honors College at Tech, which solidified my acceptance, and lasted all of a semester. All of these events led me to my home, to the greatest place I have ever lived, to the greatest people I have ever known.

Whenever I tell someone outside the Hokie Nation that I go to Virginia Tech, they always respond with a saddened expression and something to the tune of “oh my goodness it’s so sad what happened there” or “isn’t that the place where all those people got shot?” or even “wow, why would you have chosen to go there?”.  And yes, these replies certainly irritate me and it often takes great effort for me to control my tongue, but even more they sadden me for those who say them. Certainly because of the ignorance words like those represent, but more so because the people who say them will never know what I know; they will never feel what I feel; they will never experience what I have been so blessed to experience for these past three years; they are not Hokies.

Certainly for an outsider, for those who only see us on CNN in light of heartache, a tragedy like April 16th may be exactly what we are defined by. And what a pity for those people. They will never know the chills I get when I drive past Lane Stadium. They will never know the pure exhilaration I feel whenever “Enter Sandman” is played by a cover band here in London. They will never know the peace I feel when I sit atop War Memorial Chapel and overlook the Drillfield. They will never know the laughter I share with Emma, Colleen, Mina, Ellee and Alia at clubhouse lunches in ABP. They will never have the unbreakable friendship that Melinda, Emily and I have. They will never know what Virginia Tech is, what and who it is made of. Virginia Tech is more than Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more than Beamer Ball, the Corp of Cadets, Greek Life, and Ut Prosim, more than everything even its students sometimes attempt to define it by. Virginia Tech cannot be described.
Today is not a day to defend my Hokies, to attempt to convince those ignorant many that in fact my university is probably the safest of any, that April 16th could have happened anywhere. Because today I do not care about those people, those opinions. Today I care about my home, the place I love, the place that has honored me when I have shined most brightly and has held me when I have reached darker places than I thought I could. April 16th happened to Virginia Tech because only the Hokies could survive. That indescribable something gave my school its ability to rise from the ashes, from the deepest of trenches, and become something even greater. We will never forget the 32 for as long as there is a sun in the sky. And we will live everyday knowing what those 32 knew before their lives were so tragically taken. Virginia Tech is more than anything words can describe, and I thank God each and every day that I am one of the lucky few to know exactly what that means. 


Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Boat Race

Yesterday was the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race on the Thames in London. Apparently it is a huge British tradition, known most commonly as "The Boat Race', and has been going on since 1829. It was only a few stops away from us on the tube, so I went with Katie, Paige, Renata, Shea, Lindsey, Joe and Alex, to get to experience some real British culture. The tube was literally jam packed, with people heading both to the race and to a Chelsea game, both in the same general direction, aka all on the same tube line. Our stop wasn't too far away however, so it wasn't an awful ride. When we got off we simply followed to mass of people all heading to the river, and ended up being led where we had wanted to go. 

The best way I can describe the atmosphere was like a classier version of a college gameday tailgate. Most guys were dressed in Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, or their Oxford or Cambridge jackets and polos, and girls were on the same level, all very put together. Pubs line the river, and each has tents set up outside to get beer, cider or Pimms (an "English style" lemonade that is gin based), which is all served on tap. Although it isn't legal to drink on the streets in London like it once was, that rule clearly isn't followed on the day of The Boat Race, and of course we followed suit, splitting a jug of Pimms and then sending Joe to a convenience store to buy inexpensive flavored cider and beer. Apparently everyone else had similar plans because it took him about half an hour to buy it since the line was wrapped around the building. 

Katie, Renata, myself, Paige and Shea looking over the Thames before the race!
We were right at the start of the race and got to see about a total of 2 seconds of the race ourselves, while the rest was displayed on a huge screen on the other side of the river. Apparently this years race was fairly controversial. It had to be stopped when a protestor swam in river and disrupted Oxford's boat. It's the first time that the race was ever stopped and restarted for a swimmer. Then at the end, there was apparently a clash of oars and Oxford ending up losing one of their oars all together, basically given Cambridge an extra rower. Clearly Cambridge ended up winning, and although there was a protest, it apparently was ignored, and Cambridge officially won. 

After the race was over (which lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to because of the swimmer) we headed to the street, grabbed some lunch and went to a pub nearby. Overall, it was a very successful day of boat racing, day drinking, and spending time with well dressed people from Oxford and Cambridge.


Last weekend, Gracie and I took a trip by ourselves to Stockholm, Sweden. Our flight left London Stansted at around 6am Friday morning and we landed in Sweden around 9am. The airport we flew in to is about an hour outside the city of Stockholm, so we took a bus the rest of the way. I learned that Stockholm is made up of 14 islands (and Sweden as a whole is basically just a mass of islands), which I had no idea prior to visiting. Our hostel was in Gamla Stan, or "Old Town", which was in between two of the major islands of Stockholm. The city is what I imagine when I think of a European city; the architecture and colors with the combination of old and new. 

Walking to Gamla Stan, or Old Town

On Friday, we mostly just walked around the city. Nothing is too far, so walking was the easiest way to get around, especially since we had no plans of going outside the city. It was definitely cold however, snowing all three days we were there. We had been teased by 70 degree weather the entire week prior in London, so stepping back in to the cold was a little difficult. But the snow was beautiful and definitely added to the atmosphere. Friday night we found a cute restaurant near the Royal Palace in Old Town that was very good and fairly inexpensive (which is very hard to find), and spent a few hours there, then called it a night. 

Snow in the streets of Stockholm

Dessert at our dinner on Friday night

Saturday, we had a list of things we wanted to get through, such as walking around the Royal Palace, and heading to the National Library of Sweden. We walked down the main road for shopping, which was filled with all kinds of stores, as well as quite a few department stores, all very nice with some beautiful (and expensive) clothes. It was definitely a good thing that it was just Gracie and me, because we spent quite a lot of time on that street. That night we grabbed dinner, then stopped at a bar near our hostel for a drink and then headed to one of Stockholm's clubs to experience some nightlife in the city. 

The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan

The National Library of Sweden

On Sunday we spent most of our time, again walking around and seeing some islands we hadn't seen. We ended up meeting up with a couple of people we met at the club the night before and they showed us around the city, which was definitely an interesting perspective to have, from people who have lived in and around Stockholm their whole life. Overall, the trip was a huge success, even if it was a little cold and very expensive. Sweden is by far my favorite place I've been to so far. The people were without a doubt the nicest of any we have met while in Europe. If I ever plan to visit Europe in the future, I will definitely be going back to Stockholm (maybe in the Summer though...). 

Views from the water

Museum on Swedish Culture