Students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas-Pan American took some time in between classes Thursday, April 19 to remember the lives lost in the Virginia Tech tragedy during a solemn memorial service at the Quad.
"We Remember Virginia Tech" said Robert Rueda of the Baptist Student Ministry at UTPA, to the crowd that gathered on the lawn to pay their respects and show their support for the grief-stricken Virginia campus community.
The service, primarily organized by students in the Department of Communication, Bronc TV/Radio, and Baptist Student Ministry, offered the University community an opportunity to reflect on the week's events and pray for those whose lives were affected by the tragedy.
"We need to come together right now and be there for each other so that the Virginia Tech students and professors who lost their lives Monday did not die without a purpose," Mallary Bryant, a senior communication major and one of the organizers of the event, said. "The purpose is this, that nothing like this ever happens again. We need to love one another and be there for each other. If you see one of your fellow students down, help them out. It is something that is so small that can change a life forever."
The program included music, readings, prayers, and remarks by UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, who expressed her condolences to the Virginia Tech community.
"It is so very right that we should do this here at The University of Texas-Pan American. The enormity of what occurred at Virginia Tech earlier this week is still very much with me. I react to it as a parent and I react to it as a president," Cárdenas said. "We are all vulnerable and the only way to live with that vulnerability is by creating the strongest of connections among us ... Connections that honor our common humanity, connections that forgive, connections that affirm and connections that celebrate that which is in all of us."
Cárdenas also asked UTPA students to treat each other and others they come in contact with in life with respect and kindness.
"I ask you to look within yourself and set a high standard that every person who comes into your sphere of influence and emotion walks away the better for it. It is a simple little thing to pledge your life to and that applies to all people regardless of their rank, their status, or color of their skin. It is an act of saving the planet that we can all exercise," she said.
During the service, members of the University community held hands in a moment of silence and prayer not only for Virginia Tech, but also for college campuses across the nation.
A poignant moment of the service for many in attendance was the rose ceremony honoring the victims. During the ceremony, 32 students and Cárdenas each placed a rose, representing a life lost, on a makeshift memorial of the Virginia Tech letters. Cárdenas said each rose symbolized "the promise that was cut short."
Ashley Lopez, a freshman majoring in biology who is originally from Corpus Christi, said she attended the ceremony to remember the students who lost their lives so suddenly.
"I came to pay my respects to the families and friends of all of the people who were lost at Virginia Tech this Monday. My heart, my thoughts and prayers go out to them," Lopez said. "It was touching to see all of these students show up for the same reason I did."
Brenda Hernandez, a junior majoring in business from Edinburg, said she also took part in the service to show support for the Virginia Tech community.
"I felt the unity between my fellow students and I felt God's presence here today," Hernandez said. "We aren't out here for the news, but we're out here because we want to give a piece of our heart to the families. It was such a blessing to see people worshipping, crying and grieving with them."
Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, who wore an orange ribbon on her jacket in show of support for the Virginia campus, said it was important for her to attend the service and show that the UTPA community cares about what is happening in the country.
"It is very important that we support our fellow universities and our fellow Americans. It is a very, very tragic time in this country and we feel for the students," Guerra said. "We put ourselves in the place of that campus and how would we be feeling at the moment. Our hearts go out to them, to their parents, and to the entire community."
For Andrea Garza, a senior from Rio Grande City majoring in communication studies, the service gave her a chance to not only grieve, but also finally start the process of getting back to a normal life.
"I think having ceremonies like this brought peace to universities across the country. I needed to do this part, to have that closure," Garza said.
To conclude the service, the UTPA community was asked to sign a banner with their words of condolences to Virginia Tech, which will be sent to the campus.
In her closing comments, Cárdenas assured the University community that over the next few weeks the administration will be reviewing all procedures and plans that relate to campus safety.
"We will review all of our procedures, we will challenge all of our assumptions and we will ask what more can we do to make this a safe, yet caring community. Ultimately there is little that we can do to anticipate such an act. We can only make sure that we have the system and the human connection in place to mitigate it," Cárdenas said.
Also on Thursday, the Dean of Students Office held an open forum at the Student Union to reflect on the Virginia Tech through open questions and discussion. Staff from University Police, Residence Life, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Environmental Health and Safety were on hand to respond to questions and provide information about UTPA services and resources.
In addition, The University of Texas System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof is encouraging all nine universities and six health institutions in the system to take part in Virginia Tech's Alumni Association nationwide "Orange and Maroon Effect" day on Friday, April 20.
"I would like to encourage each of you, in a show of solidarity, to wear the Virginia Tech school colors of maroon and orange that day in honor of the students and faculty who lost their lives. Over the past few days, an outpouring of sympathy has clearly been evident from each of the UT System institutions across the state and many are planning events to honor the victims," Yudof said.