Today is the fourth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, where 32 students and faculty were gunned down by one of their own. I don’t have much to add to this story that hasn’t already been said since I didn’t know anyone affected by the tragedy and it’s been almost 19 years since I graduated.
Recently a story garnered about 2 minutes of attention during that day’s news cycle. President Obama award a handful of people the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidential_Medal_of_Freedom_recipients) which is awarded for “especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”. On that particular day, former President Bush (Bush 1) received the award..I’m not sure why. If you peruse the list from the aforementioned link, you’ll see people like Lucille Ball and William F. Buckley, Jr. listed as recipients. I’m sure most of us would come to our own conclusions with some self-perceived glaring omissions from the list; The people in this list, after all, are there to be remembered, right? So that we never forget their contributions and how maybe, in some small way, their lives led to the improvement in our lives?
I don’t see a category for those that perform actions that are so representative of what we should all strive to be, which is “selfless”; the closest I can find is “humanitarian”, and that list is pretty short compared to those which contain people who were paid handsomely for what they did.
On April 16, 2007, Professor Liviu Librescu was teaching a solid mechanics class at Norris Hall, just a hop, skip and a jump from my dorm (Major Williams). The students taking his class were among the best and brightest; they’d have to be -and if you need some sort of explanation as to what the hell solid mechanics is, look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_mechanics. As the gunman attempted to enter his classroom, the professor blocked the door with his person so that his students could exit the windows to safety. I can’t imagine the panic but even more so, I can’t imagine the professor’s mindset at the time. Consider what he had been through up until that point (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Librescu). From witnessing his people slaughtered during the holocaust he emerged to become one of the great scientists of our time and worked late into his 70’s teaching. Maybe it would be cynical to believe that most people, given the same circumstances, would have felt the world owed them something. Maybe at age 65 retire to Florida, and call it a day. No harm in that and I certainly wouldn’t think any less of someone who attempted to live the American Dream.
However, I do think more of the man who stood there up against that door as 22 of 23 of his students managed to escape. He took a half dozen bullets, the last of which entered his brain and killed him.
I don’t know about you but I think this is worth remembering. This award, which I have written several senator, governors, and now 2 presidents, asking for it to be given to his family, should be about reflection. A never-ending mirror that we can look into and see what we can be capable of, if faced with events that test our belief in humanity and whether or not we’re only here for ourselves but also for the preservation and betterment of others.
Thanks to him there are still 22 highly intelligent people out there that have been given a second chance, and I’m sure they’re taking full advantage of that. Today I remember the man that no doubt would have stood against every door between that madman and the 32 students who didn’t make it.