Ten Years Later: Still Not Forgotten
There are many things associated with April. Overall, I would bet most would have a cheery outlook of the month: there’s April Fools, a quarter of the year is past, spring is truly taking root, the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated, as is the arrival of the Easter Bunny, and, in my family, there are at least three different birthdays. For many, April is the month of spring showers in hopes of May flowers and a week long beach vacation for spring break. April is the light at the end of a cold, winter’s tunnel. A beacon of hope, a siren calling you into warmer, lazy days.
Ten years ago this outlook of April was shattered for me and my Hokie family. In his poem “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot began with, “April is the cruelest of months.” This has now become what April symbolizes for me—a cruel reminder of a senseless tragedy that took so many good, kind, smart, and promising lives from this world entirely too soon. Every single day in April I mourn. It does not matter where I am or what I am doing, but at some point in any given day, the reminder knocks me breathless and still reeling.
Over the years, though, the feeling has changed for me. Now I have two children of my own. My emotions have shifted from being outright angry, vengeful, and heartbroken to scared, desperate, and still heartbroken.
I lost a friend in the Virginia Tech shootings. We were not best friends, but she was a basketball teammate and a friend. Her name is Austin Michelle Cloyd, and she would have changed this world. She already had in the short amount of time she spent on this earth. She had hopes for bringing peace to the world and had already begun her calling by serving the Appalachian Service Project and being a member of the Model United Nations at Virginia Tech. The promise and potential impact that this world lost is devastating.
I remember when I first saw Austin. It was both of our senior years and I was in the cafeteria—I distinctly remember seeing this new, tall, curly red-headed girl who was shining. That’s something about Austin- she always shined. There was a light about her, a sense of calm and sincerity. When I saw her I immediately got excited to see if she played basketball. You see, our basketball team grew up together. All 12 or so girls had played on the same team—school and travel leagues—since we were five, but Austin was new to the school that year. I was curious to see if she did indeed play (height is always something to get excited about!) and how she would acclimate to being on a team that was so close-knit.
She fit right in. Of course she did—anybody who is that genuine, sweet, and determined will fit in anywhere. Austin never gave up, either. Every game, every practice, she gave her all. I will always remember the first time she made a basket in the game. It was a home game and I felt pride—hell yes this girl is a part of our team! I think our whole team felt it. Austin knocked down any barriers that she faced and earned everything herself. It was a great year getting to know, playing with, and graduating with Austin Cloyd.
I am in the position now where I look back on those days in preparation for my children. It’s no longer me reliving my glory days or being nostalgic; it’s me now preparing myself to have these same experiences but as a parent. Austin died a child. She was a mere 18 years old, as was I when the tragedy occurred. I used to view her as a peer, a friend lost. My perspective now is parental, and I simply cannot fathom the pain every single one of those parents still feel to this day.
Have we prevailed in these ten long years since this tragedy as Nikki Giovanni predicted we would? I would say yes. We have picked up and carried on. We still mourn. We will never forget. The time has not healed the wounds, but it has changed them for me. I am scared for my children, terrified of losing them. That is a hole ripped from your chest that I do not know how to ever come back from.
April is a month of pain.
However, this year—the ten year anniversary—I choose to focus on another part of Nikki Giovanni’s beautiful, empowering speech. I choose to try my damnedest to keep carrying on and invest in my children. She said, “We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness” (Convocation 2007). Our children are the ones who hold the imaginations and possibilities, the ones who will invent the future.
So, love your children. Love them hard. Show them their potential and inspire them to be great. Austin Cloyd had no threshold for weakness, compassion, or lack of determination. I will teach my children that April 16th, 2007 was a day of senseless, tragic loss. But I will also teach them the importance of prevailing. The importance of putting your all into everything you do, the importance of being kind, the importance of making the now count for something.
April does not have to be a cruel month. It is a cruel reminder, yes. But it is also a reminder of the strength and perseverance that our Hokie Nation has. It is also a reminder of our children’s potential. We will never forget and we will never stop mourning. And regardless if you feel the same way ten years later or differently as I have come to feel, we will also never stop growing stronger.
|All of us were seniors on the basketball team. Austin is the top left.|