2 Friday’s ago, I took Metro home from work and was just basking in all of the wonderful red, white, and blue around me. The Wizards were making the NBA playoffs, the Caps (at the time) were on the verge of making the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, and the National’s MLB Opening Day was a very recent memory. I had even read an article in the Express that morning about the Redskins’ NFL draft possibilities, and potentially getting Mariotta from Oregon (WHAT!?).
So, as I walked home that afternoon/evening, I was feeling pretty jovial – because there was no other time in my recent memory when I had also been local to the area that many of our sports teams had so much … optimism! And you know how I feel about optimism. There were so many fans on the Metro, wearing the home team colors. Being a Hokie, you know how I feel about team (school) spirit, too.
So last night, as I left a gathering for a late friend, I caught a TV at the restaurant and saw that the Caps game was on. On the other side of the bar, the Wizards game was happening, and it looked like the Nats game was going to go to extra innings, too! Read more…
When someone asks me why I chose Virginia Tech after high school, that date is one of the first things that flashes to the front of my mind. I remember sitting in world history class that year – my junior year of high school – and not really knowing where Blacksburg was, even. But I was watching the coverage on the TV. Senior students were talking about how they had just gotten in…and in the weeks after they were talking about how they were going to JMU or UVA instead. Others, of course, were talking about how they still wanted to go to VT anyways. More than anything, though, I remember the carnage…blood…overbearing media interviews…breaking news updates…teenage Justin sat there wondering to himself, “What really just happened? What is the magnitude of all of this?” I didn’t grasp it.
In retrospect, the fact of the matter is that on that morning a shooter rang bullets out on-campus. Places that I’m so very familiar with, places that I have so many memories of AFTER the fact … were scarred with bullets and vicious memories… one of the most beautiful places I know in this world. A place that, still, I call home. Southwest Virginia. Virginia. Tech.
I’ve never been one to act like I was there when it happened. I don’t know that grief. I didn’t know a single one of the 32 personally. Only recently have I made great friends with someone who was wounded on that day. Since then, I’ve met many who were on-campus, many of them employees of the university, now friends and mentors of mine. I’ve bonded with many first responders and family members of the victims. Still, though: that doesn’t help my understanding of what happened there. To me, it’s the carnage that I saw on the television when I was in high school and couldn’t have pointed out Blacksburg to you on a map. But wow, how time changes things. How optimism changes things. How perseverance changes things. How Hokies change things. Because while it may be the carnage, there’s a particular part of it that I “prefer” to focus on.
I like to focus on how that amazing little southwest Virginia town and a university community came together after tragedy to help each other through a miserably tough time.
It’s my firm opinion that if not for that tragedy, the world would not know as much about the most important thing and endearing quality about Virginia Tech: a sense of community. That’s why I chose such a great university to be my (physical) home for 6 years.
I know for a fact that the sense of community I’m now a part of existed before that horrible, reckless day. I know that it would still exist to this day, even had that day not happened and I never set wheel on the Drillfield. Frankly, some days I wish that those events had not happened. Those 32 would, hopefully, still be with us here today.
But since 4/16 did happen then today, like every April 16th, and every other day that I proudly represent my alma mater (read: every day), I will continue to live for those 32. For their memory, for their sacrifice, and for their unwavering commitment to Ut Prosim.
On the other hand, I’ve always found it tough to derive strength from pain. Especially when said pain has to do with death. There are 32 families in this world that are not likely to ever recover from that pain. While we, as Hokies, run 3.2 miles and set balloons into the air, and have a Community Picnic…there are families, loved ones, VT employees, and others who were affected and are practically forced to relive that pain.
“While 32 of our friends and classmates are in Heaven trying to explain what a Hokie is, I stand here sure in the fact that I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”
Although miserably sad, in truest fact form, we know their loved ones will not be back on this Earth. There’s no “but” to follow that sentence. It’s a fact. How do you say “we will prevail” when there are 32 Hokies somewhere trying to explain what a Hokie even is, and their loved ones don’t get that Hokie back on this side? It’s tough. I’m still coming to terms with that myself. I think of those people so much every single April and especially so every time I set wheel in Cassell Coliseum. I have no answer.
More than anything though, I am grateful. Not grateful that 4/16 happened. I am grateful not just for community, but also for optimism. That’s what the Virginia Tech experience was all about to me. Community, service, and optimism. Community that comes together. Service that helps each other. And optimism that allows us to not be defined by a singular event like this.
You know, growing up, my parents always reminded me to live in a way that people would see me before they would see my wheelchair. They consistently reminded me that many would look at me and judge me based on the fact that I couldn’t walk – and that I should live in a way that didn’t allow them to judge me so immediately. Since April 16, 2009 (photo’d above) when I attended my first Drillfield vigil on 4.16, I decided to take that mantra even further.
Especially on days when I wear maroon and orange (read: most days), I live in a way that allows others to see and maybe even feel the community, pride, and respect that 1 little town in southwest Virginia plants seeds for, sends its residents and students around the world, having given them the tools to do any damn thing they want, hopefully in the spirit of service – Ut Prosim.
Before you click “read more”, I just want to warn you that this is one of the more honest, vulnerable, and real posts I think I’ve ever written for this here blog. I hope you’ll relate to it in some way, anyways…
You know, I always feel like regrets are for people who don’t mean it. Regrets are for people who don’t take the time to intentionally, meaningfully, and legitimately mean what they do, say, or share. At least, that’s my opinion. That’s why I don’t have a lot of regrets.
Especially since the Austin trip, many people have been learning more and asking about my 1 second everyday project. As you may already know, this is a project that I adopted to record 1 second of my life everyday for the calendar year of 2015. I was inspired by a TED talk by Cesar Kuriyama and his own journey to do the same exact thing. I started on January 1 and haven’t looked back!
I posted a snippet of my “1SE” at the end of February, but after all of the SXSW shenanigans, I was asked to give an update! Also, this officially caps the first three months or “quarter” of 2015 so far. So, after I do this 3 more times, it will already be December 31st, 2015, and I will have an entire 365 days to look back on!
The one thing that stands out the most in this project thus far…I spent most of my of time with my pup, Charlotte! She has seven appearances over the course of the months. The list would be too long to share here, but also a shout out to everyone else who appears in the video, as well. It’s clear that I spend a lot of time being social. :) I think my ultimate goal is to be able to take this eventually 3-minute long video and share it with students with disabilities…and say “from live concerts, to just hanging out with my friends, there is absolutely nothing you can’t do if you want to do it: you might just have to do it a little bit differently.”
It’s been a very reflective project…it’s kind of strange being SO very transparent with what I do everyday (for example the like 3 days straight I spent organizing things after moving. No. Fun.) But Cesar even says in his talk – doing something you enjoy is way more important than doing something that looks cool. And that’s how I live my life.
Even though it’s early on, I also wanted to give a shout out to Cesar and his support team at 1SE. I actually wanted to post this compilation back on the 1st of April, but unfortunately there was a glitch in the app that disallowed me getting my compiled video out of the app. After messaging the support team, Cesar got back to me very promptly and in the following days invited me to a “Test Flight” version of his app – which solved all of the issues I was having. Now THAT is great customer service!
It is stories like this one that make me hopeful for any issue that deals with accessibility in our country.
My passion for education is no secret, and my passion for an accessible education is even less of a secret. The definition of the word “accessible” can vary greatly but in this situation I mean it in a way that describes the access that a person with disability may have to accessing an online education.
The acronym “MOOC” stands for Massive Online Open Course. It’s a trend that has taken higher education by storm over the past few years. “Higher ed” professionals frequently debate whether or not MOOCs will gain enough traction to more or less “take over” the offerings that traditional, brick-and-mortar universities deliver to students if they commit to paying a certain rate, known as “tuition & fees.”