Last year was filled with both tragedy and triumph--it was a year that we will always remember and one that we wish had never happened. Throughout it, the campus community remained strong. For example, every student who was injured on April 16 and didn't graduate in May returned to complete his or her studies. Their determination is further proof of the resilient Hokie spirit displayed last spring in front of cameras from around the world.
Yet it is important to remember that the Virginia Tech community is still healing. Beneath the normal tempo of campus life, there remains a sadness that won't fade any time soon. As expected, campus counselors reported an increase in sessions with students, and we have added staff to the Dean of Students Office and the Cook Counseling Center to provide additional support for those needing help.
We are also focusing significant resources on helping the families who lost 32 loved ones and the students who were injured, physically and otherwise, in Norris and Ambler Johnston halls. One such effort is the new, eight-person Office of Recovery and Support, led by Jay Poole '76, who is in frequent contact with the families and students. We believe that when emotions are raw, there can never be too much communication; indeed, one parent told Jay, "We want to hear the good, the bad, and the trivial."
The memorial to victims of April 16 was completed before the fall semester began. It arcs around the Drillfield review stand in front of Burruss Hall, lying at the geographical and emotional center of campus. From my office, I watch the stream of visitors inexorably drawn to the simple yet powerful tribute to 32 inspiring students and teachers.
In October, the university distributed more than $8.5 million to the families of the deceased and injured from the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. These monies were given to us by concerned and sympathetic alumni and friends and by wonderful strangers to not only help with the healing process but also show their deep caring for us all. While there are still many campus needs, we made these distributions to those who lost the most to help with the healing; our best wishes and thoughts remain with them. To maximize the impact of the distributions, university leadership worked closely with the Virginia congressional delegation on special legislation to exempt HSMF distributions from federal taxation, which was passed by both houses.
Later in October, the university launched VT-Engage, a new volunteerism initiative to honor the victims and to reaffirm commitment to our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). Several thousand people who attended the kickoff event were inspired by Renee and Bryan Cloyd, who lost their daughter, Austin, last April and who helped create the initiative. The Cloyds asked the campus to use the spirit of Ut Prosim to overcome the tragedy and memorialize the lives of lost loved ones.
"When April 16 happened, everybody wanted to do something," Renee said. "Now they have something to do." Since then, the Cloyds have led two trips with about 40 volunteers to some of the state's poorest locales for the Appalachian Service Project--Austin's favorite service effort--to help repair homes for low-income families.
The university continues to implement recommendations from the many task forces that convened after April 16. VT Alerts, a mobile messaging system with more than 18,000 subscribers, was created as another means of notifying the campus of an emergency or urgent event. Across campus, we have added more sirens and installed locks on all general assignment classrooms, and we are replacing hardware so that doors cannot be chained. Residence halls are now locked 24/7 and are accessible only by student key cards. We also have bolstered the Campus Care Team, a watch group that assists students with special needs. Now complementing the Care Team is a new Threat Assessment Team designed to quickly intervene when students, employees, or others are deemed a danger.
In the midst of our efforts to support families, injured students, and the campus community, we also experienced other reminders of the generosity and kindness of others. One such event was the free Concert for Virginia Tech, headlined and organized by the Virginia-based Dave Matthews Band along with John Mayer, Phil Vassar, and Nas. Nearly 50,000 grateful Hokies rocked along in Lane Stadium on a picture-perfect September evening at the beginning of the emotion-laden fall semester. I realized then that our Hokie spirit of community and service would help us as we continue to recover and to find ways to invent the future.