Next week marks twelve years since the murder of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, a tragedy that reverberated not only in Blacksburg, but around the world.
Many people will never forget what they were doing or where they were when they heard the news.
Among them, Virginia Tech creative writing professor Matthew Vollmer, who spent years putting his thoughts and emotions into an essay.
The essay is titled, ‘NeVer ForgeT’. The letter ‘V’ in ‘never’ and the letter ‘T’ in ‘forget,’ capitalized in the international symbol signifying Virginia Tech.
On that snowy Monday morning in 2007, Volmer was riding the bus to campus, unaware that a heinous tragedy was underway.
What he didn’t know, what nobody else on that bus yet knew “was that people had been shot in a dormitory on the West side of campus” and that, that was just the beginning.
It took Vollmer five years to write that essay. “I started writing it the day it occurred. I was just jotting things down because I knew I’d want to remember them. It was a confusing time. School had been canceled for a couple days. There were news media wandering around everywhere, they didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what to do.”
It was Vollmer’s first year teaching at Tech. He didn’t know many people. His thoughts kept turning to his young son, “and that if anything ever happened (to him) the sort of idiosyncratic details about his being in the world, would be what I would remember. And that lead me to thinking about Seung Hui Cho.”
That name of the Virginia Tech shooter is one many people refuse to even speak. A name synonymous with unspeakable pain.
Vollmer recalls “a story that was told to me by a professor who noticed that during the memorial (to the people murdered that day) they released 32 balloons, but she thought there should be one for the shooter himself. I think a lot of people would say, that he was a victim as well. I’m sure there are more of those who would say that he wasn’t but her interpretation was, that he had a life and he had parents and he had people that loved him, so she and one of her students went out the next day and let out the 33rd balloon.”
The professor does not want her name mentioned for this story. Names being the most personal of words, impactful to those who want to hear them and just as much to those who do not.
Matthew Volmer reading from NeVer ForgeT/ “We are less interested, it seems in the parents of children who committed those acts of violence, except to wonder maybe, what did they do wrong. I think now of a letter written by a professor to the parents of the young man who on April 16, 2007 chained the doors of a campus building shut, then went in and out of classrooms firing nearly 4-hundred rounds of ammunition injuring 17, killing 32 and then shooting himself in the head. In the letter, the professor, who was a friend, and who, years later, showed it to me told the parents that their son had been a student in her class. She wrote to express sympathy, but also to assure them that not everybody refused to include their son in the tragedy of this final tally….”
“… I don’t know why she did this, but I suspect it wasn’t just because the shooter had been her student. It was a way to recognize that though he’d committed an inconceivably monstrous acts of violence, though he had left immeasurable devastations in his wake, he had once been baby, a boy, a son a brother and that, if he had rarely been understood by his family, he had certainly been loved, a truth that, even if it couldn’t shine through the dark sorrow of their shame, might make it easier sometimes when having to say his name.
Matthew Volmer Teaches Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. Click here to read his full essay.
Virginia Tech is marking the anniversary with a number of events, including a Run in Remembrance on Saturday. Click here for more on the remembrance events.