Virginia Tech President Tells Graduates, 'Moving On Is Not Forgetting'
Saturday, May 12th 2007, 1:20 PM CDT
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) _ Virginia Tech's engineering school remembered with tears its three professors and 11 students slain by a gunman and cheered one of the wounded as he limped across a stage with a crutch to receive his diploma on Saturday.
Kevin Sterne, shown in a photograph from the April 16 campus rampage with a tourniquet on his wounded leg as he was carried by rescue workers, got a standing ovation as he grinned and accepted his degree in electrical engineering.
Earlier in the ceremony, Engineering Dean Richard Benson was overwhelmed with emotion as he spoke about the slain.
``Forgive me,'' Benson said quietly, his voice breaking, as he paused to collect himself after speaking about Professor Kevin Granata, who was shot in a hallway as he tried to save students during the rampage in which 33 people died.
Another slain professor, Dr. Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was remembered by the dean for his ``profound courage'' in blocking the classroom door so his students could escape out the windows. He, too, was killed by Seung-Hui Cho, who also took his own life.
The third slain professor, G. V. Loganathan, was honored with an excellence in teaching award accepted by his widow.
The ceremony continued the theme of striking a balance between celebration and sorrow that began with a university commencement event Friday night. Individual colleges and departments handed out diplomas at ceremonies Saturday.
The victims were remembered Friday as achievers.
``In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, 'They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well,''' Virginia Tech President Charles Steger told 3,600 graduating seniors and a crowd of nearly 30,000 friends and family.
Those killed were remembered throughout Friday's ceremony in emotional speeches, their faces pictured on a huge screen at Lane Stadium. Class rings were handed out to the families of many of the slain students.
Steger acknowledged the emotional wounds may never heal, he urged the graduates to move forward and celebrate life.
``Please know that moving on _ moving on is not the same as forgetting,'' he said. ``We shall not forget. Yet, one senseless burst of violence _ as horrible and hurtful as it is _ will not turn us from our essence.''
Retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, praised the graduates Friday for their quiet courage, dignity and poise in dealing with the tragedy. Survivors have a responsibility to realize the dreams and aspirations of the slain, he said.
``While we are saddened by the loss of those who cannot be here today, I believe that they would want this ceremony to commemorate both the tragedy of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow,'' he said. ``I believe that they look down on this gathering with dignified pride.''
In many ways, the evening ceremony seemed like most commencements. Grinning students jumped up and down and waved as their faces appeared on the stadium's screen while ``Pomp and Circumstance'' played.
Students chanted ``Let's go, Hokies!'' and the stadium's stands twinkled with constant camera flashes from the graduates' proud family members. They decorated their mortarboards with ``VT'' and ``Hi Mom.''
But the speeches, while marked by hope, were also laced with sorrow.
``Rest assured, we will define ourselves by where we have been and where we will go,'' class historian Jennifer Weber said.
James Long, whose sister, Michelle, earned a degree in history, said students would not let the tragedy overshadow their celebration.
``There are too many people here to celebrate five, six years of hard work to let one guy screw that up,'' he said.