As a writer, there is much I could say about Virginia Tech. I’ve been at a loss for words. When I watched poet Nikki Giovanni close the Virginia Tech Convocation commemorating the deaths of those killed on April 16th, I knew it had all been said – I could choose hope.
Nikki Giovanni has been a professor of writing and literature at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) since 1987, and is now a Distinguished Professor there. It is fitting that Giovanni, a great poet (one of my favorites who inspired several posts: Bookends, Balances, and Hard Rain & 3 Grains of Salt to One Ounce Truth) would end the VT Convocation with a poem:
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on. We are embracing our mourning. We are Virginia Tech. We are strong enough to stand tall, tearlessly. We are brave enough to bend to cry. And sad enough to know we must laugh again. We are Virginia Tech.
It’s an odd synchronicity that April is National Poetry Month. Poetry distills everything down to just the essentials. It is sparse and moving. If you haven’t seen her read her poem at the Convocation closing, I recommend viewing the full video. It is powerful and inspiring: “We are Virginia Tech” – convocation poem read by Giovanni (MSNBC video)
Since Monday, we’ve been blasted with issues of gun control, troubled youth, law enforcement response times, “Crisis in America” headlines, and self-directed media coverage. It’s depressing at best. But the comments Amelia made yesterday on red Ravine in Practice – No Topic – 10min brought Giovanni home to me – we will continue on if there is hope.
Their optimism serves to remind me that writing is about the power of words – but writing is nothing without community. I want to focus on the positive. And write about what pulls us through. Not what tears us down.
In 1999, Giovanni was the keynote speaker at the University of Michigan’s 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. The drive of her speech was that in spite of all obstacles, we sail on. We don’t get tossed away.
Maybe some of the grief we feel is that it could have been any of us. Our daughter, son, parent, sister or brother. In the larger human context, we are all Virginia Tech. But if we believe in hope, we can help each other sail on.
And you, in this next century, must continue to go on, whether the road is dark, whether you are confused. You must continue to try to go toward that horizon where you cannot see the end, where you do not know . . . if something will gobble you up. Certainly you have every right to be afraid. It’s a vicious world out there.
It’s your life, but you’ve got to do something with it. You might fall off the Earth, somebody might find the end of the Earth, you might fall. But if you don’t, you will have gone to a place few people have seen. You will have found something new. We can’t be cowards, we can’t kowtow, we can’t bend over because we’re afraid of what somebody will say or what somebody will do. All of you have the possibility to do something different and something better. You must sail on.
-Excerpts from Nikki Giovanni’s keynote speech at the University of Michigan’s 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium – “In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., Giovanni tells students to ‘sail on’,” By Bernard DeGroat, The University Record, January 25th, 1999
-posted on red Ravine, April 18th, 2007
-related to post: Baldwin & Giovanni – On Truth & Love