I went to a small college in an idyllic rural setting, surrounded by people who shared my enthusiasm for learning. College was a safe refuge, a place where I could immerse myself in my education fearlessly.
On December 14, 1992, a classmate of mine, 18 years of age, went into a sporting goods store, showed his driver’s license, and walked out of the door with an semi-automatic rifle. For reasons I still don’t understand, he returned to our campus that night and used that rifle to go on a shooting rampage. He murdered my dear friend, Galen, also 18, and a beloved professor, Nacunan, who was 36. The murderer injured four others before he surrendered. The only reason the toll was not more devastating was because his gun jammed repeatedly that night.
That beautiful snowy winter evening, a week before final exams, my sense of refuge, of security, was violently and irretrievably shattered. I heard the gunshots, saw a friend covered in blood from trying to save my professor, heard the sobs and cries of pain from my community when the names of the dead were announced.
Since then, I finished my education, went on to earn a doctorate, and I now teach on a college campus. I have held on to my love of learning, but I feel a pang when I am walking on my campus now, particularly when the smell of snow is in the air. I miss my friend, who gave the best hugs, had the best smile, who told ridiculous jokes. I miss my professor, who taught my very first college class – I miss his bouncy walk, his long, trailing scarves and jaunty hat, his easy brilliance with languages, and, most of all, the utmost faith he expressed to his students in their abilities and potential, a quality I try to emulate as an educator today.
Over the last 25 years, we have had more school shootings that can be counted. One of the most devastating, Sandy Hook, happened 20 years to the day after the shooting at my college. Regular news of mass murders are punctuated daily by the suffering of communities and families haunted by gun violence. Each headline brings again the stab of trauma. I am heartsick, I am tired, but I am also determined to do what I can. We need to show courage to protect our children and educators – our schools and colleges. Please, let’s work together to keep our school campuses, as much as we can, a place of safety, of learning, of hope, and of growth, not pain, not trauma, not insecurity, not aggression, and not terrible, irretrievable loss. It is time for stories like mine to become a thing of the past.