Thank you all very much and good afternoon.
What a pleasure it is to be back at the Shad Planking, Virginia’s annual political rite of spring.
I want to thank the Wakefield Ruritan’s Club for inviting me to be here today and giving me a chance to serve as the keynote speaker for this year’s event. I’ve enjoyed attending this event for many years, but you honor me greatly today by giving me a chance to stand atop this old flatbed trailer and give the keynote address.
And I want to thank the Ruritans, here in Wakefield and hundreds of other places all across Virginia, for the hard work you do every day to reach out and serve your community. You do good work, and that sense of community spirit is one of the things that make Virginia a very special place.
I want to thank my good friend and colleague Fred Quayle for being here today to introduce me. I have served with Fred Quayle in state government for the past 12 years, and I can tell you that he does a great job representing the people of the 13th district in the State Senate.
Now my friends, I know that this is supposed to be a light hearted event and the keynote speaker generally takes his time to poke fun at our state’s politicos and fire up the crowd for the fall campaigns. I assure you that I had a number of very good zingers all lined up for you today, but quite frankly, in light of the events of the past few days, this is not a time for light heartedness and poking fun. So, I want to spend my time this afternoon speaking to you from the bottom of my heart about a much more serious situation.
Needless to say, this is a difficult time for our Commonwealth.
On Monday of this week a young man who obviously had many deep and dark problems went on a shooting spree on the campus of Virginia Tech and killed 32 innocent people.
I have served in the public life of this Commonwealth for the past 16 years, and I can honestly tell you that the past two days have been the most difficult days of that service.
We’ve heard of tragedies of this nature before, in other places, but we never thought they could strike here, not in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and certainly not on the peaceful, safe, rural campus of a great University like Virginia Tech.
But the truth is that events of this nature can occur anywhere at anytime, and the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus vividly remind us that we not immune from these events.
Virginia Tech is one of our nation’s finest institutions of higher education. The students, faculty, staff and alumni of Virginia Tech are a close family, and as the father of a 2006 graduate of Virginia Tech, I consider myself a part of that family as well. In difficult times families pull together, and I have no doubt that the Virginia Tech family will pull together as well in this difficult time.
Likewise, the people of Virginia are a resilient people, and I have no doubt that we will pull together in this difficult time, but the truth is that there is a big hole in the heart of Virginia today.
It is said that tragedies and the difficult times of life make us stronger, and I believe that’s true. By relying on our faith, our families and friends, I am confident that we will endue these present troubles, and emerge from this tragedy stronger that ever.
Yesterday I had the honor of traveling to Blacksburg to attend a Memorial Service with President Bush and Governor Kaine. It was a wonderful event, and it showed the persistent Hokie pride and spirit like it has never been showed before. I was proud to there, and I was proud to be a Hokie.
While there I had a chance to meet with some of the families who lost loved ones in Monday’s shooting, and their stories are just beginning to emerge.
And I can tell you that the magnitude of this event does not sink in until you look into eyes of moms and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, who have lost loved ones.
We’ve learned the story of Liviu Librescu, a 76 year old internationally respected aeronautical engineer. Mr. Librescu was a survivor of the Holocaust, and was gunned down while he tried to barricade a door to save his students.
We’ve learned the story of Ryan Clark, a 22 year old Resident Assistant, who we believe was killed when he responded to the first shooting in the Ambler Johnston Residence Hall, trying to assist another student who was also killed.
We’ve learned the story of Jarrett Lane, a senior civil engineering major who was the Valedictorian of his class in Narrows, Virginia. His friends described him as “fun loving” and “full of spirt”, and they said that “he had a caring heart and was a friend to everyone he met.”
These victims, and 29 others, did nothing to deserve their fate, and there is nothing or no one who was responsible for the fate other than the evil that entered the heart of the one who committed this senseless act.
Today, as we gather together in this field we must remember them, for that is the thing that matters most.
In the face of a tragedy of this nature it is natural for us to look for an explanation for why things like this happen, but there is no explanation that will suffice.
Time will tell what prompted someone to commit these senseless acts, and there are a number of questions that have been raised about what, if anything could have been done to prevent these acts or reduce their magnitude. These are legitimate questions and I assure you that we will find answers to these questions when the investigation has been completed, but this is not the time for questions – this is a time for hurting and crying and mourning and supporting those who need our help.
In his Word God does not tell us that we will be immune from difficulties of this nature, but he does promise that He will enable us to endure them and overcome them if we rely on Him.
I have been reminded of this many times in these past three days.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy, in speaking at a Memorial Service for Dr. Martin Luther King, quoted the Greek play writer Aeschylus, who said, ‘In our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon our hearts, and in our despair, and against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’
I have been reminded of those words many times in these past three days.
And in a more contemporary song, one of America’s favorite bands, The Eagles, sing these words that I have also been reminded of often:
There’s a hole in the world tonight
A hole of pain and sorrow
There’s a hole in the world tonight
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow
Yes, this is a time of hurting, pain, crying and mourning – and there is a hold in our world today - but if we do our work right, it can also be a time of coming together and of strength.
Now I want to ask you all to help me with something. I’d like to ask that you turn to the person next to you and ask that they quiet themselves for a moment of silence in honor and memory of those who lost their lives at Virginia Tech on Monday.
PAUSE FOR A MOMENT OF SILENCE
My friends we are all Virginians, and today we are all Hokies!
May God bless you all.