Virginia Tech shooting victims remembered, honored

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Hugo Guzman, Entertainment - By Hugo Guzman on Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 02:54

Those walking to lunch or class were interrupted by an unusual and solemn sight Monday, April 16.  On Founder’s Hill, between the Campus Center and Deihl Hall, a crowd of students stood in place and recited poetry for no apparent reason.  However, nearby programs quickly revealed the point of the performances.  April 16 was the five-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech Massacre, and this event was in commemoration of it.

The actors were student volunteers, some of whom were gathered from Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctorial Fellow and Professor of Theatre and Communication Arts Katherine Jean Nigh’s Theater for Social Change class. Senior Colleen Daly was among them.  “I felt really connected to my person,” Daly said.  “It was really powerful and, for lack of a better word, sad.”  Daly has a personal connection to the Virginia Tech killings, as she is from Virginia and knew some of the victims personally.  Junior Jessica Miller had similar feelings.  “I felt like a part of something,” Miller said.  “Like I was honoring my own person [Daniel Patrick O’Neil].”  

Despite the strong feelings on part of the performers, some worried that it might have been a little lost on the student body.   The path between Deihl and the Campus Center is the school’s busiest.  

Most of the people exposed to the performance were on their way to class, and could not stay for more than a few minutes. “I saw it but I didn’t stay,” first-year Karen Montufar said. “I just didn’t know how to listen. They were just everywhere and talking.” For others the emotion of the event was more present. “I thought it was really suspicious but once I found out what it was, it was beautiful,” first-year Noor Mustafa said.

However, in spite of these mixed reviews, the event met Nigh’s expectations. “It wasn’t meant to invade anyone’s space, but meant to be experienced and happened upon,” Nigh said.  “If only for two minutes, people reflect on the 32 victims, that’s enough for me.”

The performance consisted of 32 students standing around the hill, reciting poetry related to a specific victim of the killings.  The piece was written by the playwright Erik Ehn, who sent it out to his friends within the directing world and asked them to perform it.  Nigh heard about it from one of these friends, and she got in contact with Ehn, who allowed her to perform it here in Whittier. While there is nothing planned for next year, Nigh is very interested in feedback of the performances and is considering a revisit in the coming year.