Baker recollects Virginia Tech tragedy during prayer service


Freshman Brooke Pryor didn’t know any of the victims of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University massacre. She can’t even remember their names.

She knows them on paper, though.

On paper she read that freshman Lauren McCain will never get to celebrate her 21st birthday, on paper she learned that Professor of Engineering Liviu Librescu would be 78 years old this year, and on paper she learned that the lives of 33 people, including the shooter Seung-Hui Cho, ended far too soon.

She remembered them on the one-year anniversary of the shooting. She remembered them Wednesday along with other members of the Baker community; she remembered where she was a year ago.

She was in high school. She was sitting in one of her first classes of the day.

“I found out in first or second period,” she said. “I talked to my sister (junior Alexis Pryor) that evening. I know she was pretty shook up about it.” She will always remember.

“(Virginia Tech) is larger than our college campus, but it’s in a small town,” University Minister Ira DeSpain said. “There are a lot of similarities, and people can really relate to what it must be like if something happened here.”

The reality, Dean of Students Cassy Bailey said, is it could happen here, and that Baker is not immune from acts of violence.

“Part of what’s so tragic about violence is that it’s chaotic,” Bailey said. “I feel like it’s hard to be prepared for all kinds of violence.”

Pryor said she feels safe at Baker though, as safe as she can feel on a college campus located in the middle of a small community.

“I don’t think you can ever be completely prepared for something like that,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

In an effort to recognize and reflect upon the victims of the shooting, DeSpain led students and staff members in a 10-minute prayer service Wednesday near the memorial tree planted on campus.

The tree, a Flowering Dogwood, is the state tree of Virginia and was planted last May in response to the shooting in Blacksburg, Va. Student senate donated the tree, and it represents the need for the Baker community to recognize the impact of school violence on college campuses.

“I hope students will take away a renewed resolve to never accept violence as a standard of our culture,” DeSpain said about the service.

The truth remains, though, that school violence has become frequent in our generation, but not violence of this magnitude, Assistant Professor of Sociology Jacob Bucher said.

“We’ve had spree killings, had mass murders, but they’re always adult,” Bucher said. “Now we’re seeing people in younger generations who are participating in this violence.”

Another reason, Bucher said Baker students might feel connected to Virginia Tech is because of the way the act of violence was carried out.

“This kid walked through campus, walked into a building, into a classroom with a gun,” Bucher said. “The premeditation of it, the fact that it was so common. The fact that somebody could walk into my classroom tomorrow scares people.”

Bailey said at Baker, administration is making progress toward ensuring student safety on campus through emergency text messaging and the installation of card swipes on important buildings on campus.

“Baker is a small and close community,” she said. “If something happens, there is not a lot of red tape to get through.”

After the shooting, colleges across the country reevaluated their safety plans, Bucher said. The act of violence also sparked controversy surrounding gun control as well as mental health issues.

“As a dean of students, I work with students who are facing mental health issues,” Bailey said. “The people of Virginia Tech, those in student affairs, are my colleagues.”

During the prayer service, DeSpain read the names of the victims aloud in an effort to make each person’s life more meaningful.

“It was really hard to hear that people so close to you in age are gone now,” Pryor said. “It’s a reminder that you never know what’s going to happen.”

DeSpain said students don’t necessarily have to know someone who died in the shooting to empathize for them.

“It’s not a matter of whether or not students know someone who was a victim of the Virginia Tech shooting,” he said. “All forms of violence victimize people. I want us to remember that.”

The Virginia Tech community was also victimized, Bailey said, which is one of the reasons she attended the service.

“The people of Virginia Tech are not the direct casualties,” she said. “But, they are still the victims of violence.”

DeSpain ended the service with a prayer for the victims, for their families and for the Virginia Tech community. He also prayed for us, for Baker.

“You need to think about all the people you see every day, and be respectful,” Pryor said. “You never know what could happen. You need to think about the things you do and say to people.”