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Cross Country Road Trip

Yup, it's going to happen this summer and I'll be blogging the journey on my website:

For anyone that still follows this blog and lives in the United States and is interested in grabbing coffee sometime leave a comment!


The B

A series of events...

I've been meaning to blog about the series of events that have been occurring on our campus and how frustrating it all has been.  The Roanoke Times just came out with an article that does it better than I could describe, so I'll just paste it here:

Tragedy-rocked Tech reaches out to Fort Hood
School officials are helping the military even as they grapple with yet another gruesome link to Blacksburg.

By Tonia Moxley | The Roanoke Times

BLACKSBURG -- Military officials dealing with Thursday's Fort Hood shootings have called on Virginia Tech for guidance in coping with the trauma that follows such violence.

It's been more than two years since Tech English major Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 students and faculty and injured dozens more in the worst school shooting in U.S. history.

In that time, there has been healing and solidarity. Officials have implemented new security measures and training on campus and in the community. State legislators have revised public policy and bolstered mental health services across the state.

But in many ways, the community here is still reeling, not just from the aftereffects of April 16, 2007, but from a string of subsequent tragedies that have befallen Tech students.

The crimes and the national spotlight under which these events are now analyzed create a feeling of "yet again, here's another one. It's draining after a while," said Scott Russell, Episcopal campus minister at Tech.

The constant attention, even when it's well-meaning, "can be debilitating," Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Spencer said.

In January, Tech doctoral student Haiyang Zhu, 26, was charged with the killing of fellow student Xin Yang, 22, who was decapitated in a cafe in Tech's Graduate Life Center.

An unknown killer or killers shot and killed 18-year-old Heidi Childs and her boyfriend, David Metzler, 19, in August in a secluded campground a short drive from campus.

Twenty-year-old Morgan Harrington disappeared last month from a rock concert in Charlottesville, leaving her family bereft and the Tech community bewildered.

Then, on Thursday, news broke that Nidal Malik Hasan, a 1995 Tech graduate formerly of Roanoke, allegedly opened fire on fellow soldiers in a medical waiting room at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 and injuring about 30.

It has been called the worst mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history.

And once again, the name Virginia Tech was paired with mass tragedy in news reports across the country.

"I hate to hear this. I hate this association with Virginia Tech," said Tom Sitz, a biochemistry professor who taught Hasan in the early 1990s.

Hasan has "been gone a long time. How can you make something out of that?" Sitz asked.

Still, the tragedies that have beset the Hokie nation since 2007 prick wounds from that terrible time more than two years ago when the community's sense of security was shattered by Cho.

Now, every time there's a new tragedy, it "brings back those same gut-wrenching feelings," Sitz said.

"Even before the shootings in Texas, I must admit to wondering about the incomprehensible series of events. ... Because nothing seemed to ever happen in Blacksburg. And now all of this?" Tech journalism instructor Roland Lazenby wrote in a message Sunday.

Lazenby has taught at Tech for 11 years and co-wrote with some of his students the oral history "April 16th: Virginia Tech Remembers."

The mounting effects of senseless and in some cases unsolved Tech-related crimes have caused many to question if so much tragedy can be a coincidence. There's a feeling of unease -- fueled by bloggers, Internet commentaries and even local speculation -- that in Blacksburg might lie some wellspring of violence.

In a pre-April 16 context, Hasan's fleeting connection to Tech would likely have garnered little notice. But the human tendency to look for a simple explanation can lead to rampant mythmaking, said Dr. Frank Ochberg, co-founder of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and a leading expert in traumatic stress studies.

It's a phenomenon felt in Columbine, Colo., in the years following what in 1999 was the worst school shooting in the country's history. That year, an entire community became synonymous with teen violence and related social ills.

"Tragic and traumatic events sometimes cause us collectively to have some common feeling. This feeling can pull us together," said Ochberg, who worked with officials in Columbine following those killings.

"But it can also cause us to assume that tragedies have a common root. ... It's not unexpected that people will put together a string of tragedies" and assume "this particular place is a 'tragic land' or has something negative about it," Ochberg said.

People living there can come to feel cursed or damned, he said.

"The answer to that is: Be reasonable and be rational. Look for very important differences" in the events, he said.

"This is also a good time for people to embrace each other and get back in touch with their ... love and solidarity. And don't pay too much attention to the voices of gloom and doom," he said.

Ochberg also suggested that community and campus leaders remind the public "that these myths about being damned and cursed are superstitions." To counteract them, "search for what's really going on and what you can do about it."

"I have been to Virginia Tech, and I have felt the spirit. And it is good," Ochberg said.

As universities and even Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis reached out to Tech in the aftermath of April 16, so has Tech reached out to the victims at Fort Hood.

Spencer said he and about a dozen other university officials have spent hours talking with Pentagon officials by phone and teleconference. They've given advice in planning for the days, weeks and even years of grief and change that community now faces, he said.

Bo Hart, chief of staff of the Tech Student Government Association, said Friday, "We're here to support Fort Hood and the Army. ... We're here to do whatever we can."

Fort Hood

My deepest sympathies go out to the community of Fort Hood and to all those affected.

It would have to be a Virginia Tech graduate... 

I was looking over some statistics for my website,, and saw that some people were being referred from this blog. It's interesting knowing people are still reading through it. One of these days I'll make a better organized website to read through documenting my experiences, but that'll be down the road when I'm not so busy...

So considering I'm procrastinating from a report that was due yesterday, I'll try to be quick....

As some of you may have seen I have decided to run for Blacksburg Town Council. I'm the youngest of 10 candidates (I turn 21 next week) and the only Virginia Tech student running. It's very exciting because I feel like I'm in a unique position to really make a difference in our community by uniting the university and town community in ways some people never would have imagined. I hope through this campaign a movement can be created to get people interested in local politics and invested with our community-- the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech community. You can read more about it on my campaign website:

As many previous readers of this blog can tell, I've fallen in love with the Blacksburg community and if I'm elected I'll proudly serve on Town Council for at least four years.  In fact as I write this I'm in my backyard next to some candles enjoying the light fading in dusk, listening to crickets and watching fireflies blink in the treeline.  This is now my home and even if I don't win the election I'm certain I'll stay here for years to come.


On a slightly different note, it's obvious this blog has evolved since my postings two years ago to reflect to events related to our community and the shooting on April 16th, 2007. It is interesting that in a few weeks I'll be starting my senior year at college and that we'll be the last class that have had that experience. I have a video that was posted a while ago (but not yet shared here) as a draft of the 4/16 documentary I spoke of several times.  You can view it below. I believe it gives a good, if only slight, taste of what our community had to endure in the aftermath of the shooting.

I also posted below that a quick video I made for my "Nature and American Values" class last semester regarding the process mountain top removal. This, an extension of the Wise County Project, is a taste of what I do hope to finish in the next month or so with more narration on my part of my personal experience of learning about the issue and my involvement with the youth movement.

Unfortunately one of my video storage drives just failed and preliminary estimates say it would be $1,000 to retrieve the footage from it. I have yet to sit down and see how much 4/16 and Wise County Project related footage I've lost, as I do have another drive and many original tapes, but I fear I've lost many crucial hours that I will be unable to recover as early on when I got my camera I re-recorded over tapes. I'm certainly holding on to the drive and will assess later how much data I did loose. So let that be a lesson-- invest the $100 for another drive to act as a backup. It's amazing how cheap they're getting nowadays ($100 for 1TB).

Without further ado, here you go:

Two Years

Over two years ago I had a class for two weeks on the second floor of Norris Hall, a class that was overcrowded so we moved to a bigger room in a neighboring building.  Two days ago for the first time since then I walked into Norris Hall.  I barely recognized the hallway of the second floor of Norris, with its wood flooring and hazy glass wall with the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention engraved into it.


I felt very weird at first being in there, looking at the exact spot in the hallway where I knew a fellow student died.  Here I was, walking along the hallway of classrooms where altogether 31 lost their lives while remembering the other two who died in a residence hall.  This time of the year will always be tough for all of us that were here on that horrid day, and I know many of my friends who lost others may never be ready to enter Norris Hall.  


Nevertheless it is evident that our community is moving on.  Being a freshman when all the events occurred I know that after I graduate next year there will only be a few super-seniors and graduate students that would have that experience within the new generation of Hokies.  We’ll probably be known for a long while as the massacre school, where time and time again people I meet elsewhere who refer to it all simply as “Virginia Tech”.   


This is what I feared early into the tragedy and spoke about on air with MTV News on April 17th, but now this is something that I’ve accepted.  These events happen, whether they’re here at Virginia Tech, in New York, at Northern Illinois or elsewhere across the world.  It is a tragic situation of which there is no set answer to.  Blame video games, blame parents, blame whatever you will—I guarantee that there are others that grew up in the same circumstances and are perfectly fine in life.  


In the final aftermath of all that has happened here, I have come to the conclusion that we truly choose who we are.  We may not be happy with our lives or often get our way, but we can choose how we move forward with life.  Yesterday, April 15th, was Free Hugs Day at Virginia Tech.  It is an opportunity for everyone to embrace what makes our community special -- each other.  Dozens of us hugged and high-fived hundreds of students in an opportunity to celebrate what it means to be a Hokie outside Football and other sports, to celebrate what makes each and every one of us who we are even in such a brief moment.  We will ALWAYS remember the events here and hold the scars, but we are moving forward. 
MTV didn't quite have the funds to come down to Virginia Tech so they asked me to do some videos for them with my camera.  I can't lie in that it was pretty awesome uploading the videos to their server and now seeing it on their website.  Maybe I'll get a job in the film / news industry someday.

Next post in series:

I must admit I'm confused...

As the two year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech approach I've had a few moments of flashbacks in its anticipation, but overall have been well.  I'm planning an unofficial "Free Hugs Day at Virginia Tech" event in which perhaps nearly 1,000+ people will show up on the Drillfield and randomly hug each other and celebrate our community, it was something I felt like I should do.  Otherwise my semester has had a few rough spots, including mention of the previous post, but overall has been normal.

So tonight there was a shooting at a neighboring school, Radford University, that has left one dead.  Sure, I tell myself, shootings happen.  Universities are like small cities; these things happen [of course, that's what I said with the previous murder before I learned it was a beheading].  Yet, now I see the news-- CNN 's and FOX's websites-- and its on their front pages.  I must admit I'm confused, because, unfortunately, murders happen on campuses across the nation yet Radford is national news.  Is this because we're 20 minutes apart?   (CNN has already made that reference).  Or is it because these things are such a rarity that they are thrown upon the media stage.  If the latter is true, then why this area?

Just some late night thoughts.  Rest in piece to who lost their life tonight at Radford, and best of regards to my friends and fellow students at Radford.  Keep strong.

Next post reflecting on two year anniversary:


I'll make this short. 

Last night a Chinese international student who had been here only a few weeks was beheaded by another Chinese international student who was here since last semester in a cafe that I attend semi-regularly on campus.  It is difficult to imagine, and to know that place and what occurred is making it hard on me.

Last night, before we knew the details, a friend called and others messaged me.  They were scared, worried, concerned-- we were the ones that endured the horrific things that occurred on April 16th.  Was it happening again?  Police said they have a suspect, but what if they're wrong? Are we really safe? Do we know who died?  ---the questions go on and on.

I would like to think that I assured them with the notion that Virginia Tech is like a small city.  Murders, unfortunately, happen in small cities.  April 16th was the extreme rarity that we were so unfortunate to have endured.

But learning this today: this wasn't just some murder--- she was brutally beheaded.

I'm of the last generation on campus to know what it feels like and to have to endure what happened here.  This reminds all of us how raw our emotions still are, and how many of us lost those that we cared about.  The two years of students below us now don't understand, nor can they ever understand.  To them this was a horrific murder that occurred on our campus, but it doesn't put salt on a healing wound like for many of us.

Next post:

Refreshed Memories

Today was the first day in over a month I had an opportunity to walk across campus instead of bike due to the somewhat pleasant rain we’re experiencing (I now live off campus here at Virginia Tech).  As I crossed the Drillfield with my umbrella in hand amidst the dismal gray I looked around at other students that passed me.  It is hard to convey the feelings in words, but I saw before me normalcy.  I saw students headed to class, talking on their cell phones or to friends, smiling faces or stern looks alike— seeing all of this I suddenly realized that I hadn’t thought about the 4/16 shooting in a while.  It has been a year and a half since the overbearing tragedy that fell upon our community and I finally felt normal here to the point that I didn’t even think about the need to be ‘normal’.  I’m just a college student and this is my college—nothing out of the ordinary.  It was a good feeling and I smiled.


Three hours later I was eating lunch with two of my friends when one of them received a text message on her phone.  She had a nervous look on her face and showed us the text from her friend who doesn’t go to Tech: “Are you ok?  I heard there were gunshots on campus”. 


It all came back.


Walking out of the classroom to a chorus of police sirens.  Parked police cars in front of a dorm.  Seeing dozens of people screaming and running up stairs towards me from the Drillfield with extremely frightened faces.  The campus-wide alarms, more sirens, taking 20 tries to call home to say I was ok, lockdown, the rumors, the guesses, the news of 2-12-20-33 dead and dozens more wounded.  The unknown, the grief, the pain, the loss.  The encroaching media, the very public blog.  The year and a half afterward.


It all came back.


Within another minute I got a text from the police: “Virginia Tech Emergency Notification: Police are investigating reported sounds of gunshots in Pritchard Hall.  Building is secured.  No access in or out.  Police searching room by room.”


Is it happening again?  Is this the beginning?  Is it anyone I know?  It’s probably nothing.  It’s surely a false alarm.  I called home just in case to say I was ok.  I began to calm down.  Within a few minutes I was fine and soon found out it was possibly a prank with fireworks or construction equipment.


Just when I finally could appreciate normalcy, this had to happen.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Next post in series:


Well here I am.  For the weekend I'm in Blacksburg.  I love this place so much.  It is so peaceful and the community is so close.  I'm at a friend's house further down the road from what will be my apartment next year.  Just around the corner is the smoke stack for the power plant for Virginia Tech and the rest of its campus. 

I'm taking probably two days off from work despite money being extremely tight.  We're having a statewide retreat here to figure out the main goals for the Virginia Power Shift 2008 conference that will be at VT.  I'm a central planner and the recruitment coordinator for the conference.... and I thought I might have had a bit of a break this summer.  Though I am happy to be active in everything as I am, it would be nice to have a good week or two when I don't have to think about anything with planning and the like.  Of course vacations are out of the question when I barely have enough money to get down here from Northern Virginia and back ($100 round-trip for a 2000 VW Bug).

My job has been well.  Removing invasive plant species in Fairfax County parks can definitely suck on some days, just see Multi-flora Rose and then the sore red dots on my limps where their thorns sliced into me.  I think I have my first paycheck waiting at home; that should be some relief. 

It is kind of funny that sometimes during school weeks and even during the summer I spend up to 40-hours a week working on planning for environmental things, whether it is a statewide conference or the organization at school and its related communication.  Not a dime in my pocket for it (and actually usually owe money for planning lunches and gas) and there are many people out there that do much less and make so much more.  I haven't really minded up until this point, but as with the rest of America gas prices are hurting.

It is funny the things we know.  People knew gas prices were going to shoot up soon, whether by peak oil (which is still coming like an out of control freight train) or the simple rules of supply and demand.  They knew this 10 years ago-- they knew it 50 years ago.  Yet we never fully prepared.  The crazys that prepared for a world without oil in their environmental homes are suddenly on the news for being smart and prepared. 

Here I am wishing I could get an electric car, but it is too expensive.  Honda's hydrogen vehicles just hit the road now for a $600 a month lease in Southern California (only because they actually have the hydrogen highway).  I'm glad that they are also making a hydrogen fueling station to have in your garage that can power not only your car but also your house by running on natural gas.  If I had money, I would be the first person to install it.

So as this post kind of aimlessly wanders, I guess I'll lead up to something and make it worthwhile.  This conference that is coming up will have youth from all across the state converge in one location to learn from one another, attend workshops and lectures, and hear guest speakers (we're looking at Al Gore and Barrack Obama).  We want people to be empowered and bring the environmental movement back to their campuses, communities, and homes.  We want to bring sustainability to Virginia everywhere we can.  From the mountains that are being blown up and their related communities to suburbs that continue to grow endlessly and their roads that are parking lots for countless miles to the farmers that grow their crops the best they can.  The world--- no... The United States is finally beginning to wake up and see its potential, but we've gone so far in another direction we are going to suffer great consquences.  It won't be an easy path to achieve even a relatively sustainable nation, but I believe it can and will happen.  I believe that our generation will be the generation that will prevail.  This is why I work so hard and so passionately.  None of what I do is about me, it is about this movement that is getting stronger and stronger every day.  It is about the people I meet; those that are well off and those that are suffering horribly.  I believe in my heart that bringing about a sustainable world will unite humanity indefinitely.  It won't be an "ecotopia"-- that can never be accomplished-- but we can get pretty damn close. 

I do what I can.

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