I have been surprised by how much stock various news programs have put into Cho Seung-Hui’s history, particularly his childhood behavior and his writings. I was struck, frankly, because I found a story not incredibly different from my own.
For most of my life, I have preferred solitude. As a young child, I primarily played alone. As I grew older, I spent summer days on my bike; I would leave mid-morning and return for dinner, and usually leave again after dishes were done. I enjoyed social interactions, very much, but found profound peace in solitary activities.
Some thought I was a loner, unable to make friends – a claim which may certainly carry some weight. However, I always viewed it as a matter of not particularly wanting to make friends, as opposed to being unable to.
I preferred the company of adults over children my own age. Adults talked about big things, important things. Kids talked about GI Joes and Barbies, and had I heard Jenny was the first girl to get a boyfriend, in fifth grade? Trifle things, compared to the Contract with America, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the bombing in Oklahoma City, and David Koresh. If I was good and agreed to behave myself, I could sip coffee with milk and a tablespoon of sugar.
The trend continued as I got older. In high school, I regularly visited a former teacher and his wife at their home. Mrs. Nagoda always had cookies and lemonade and would say, “Oh Ryan, you tiger!” whenever I would mention a girl’s name; Mr. Nagoda shared life lessons, usually with the theme of looking at the big picture.
When I would pick up young women for dates – it did not happen often, but it did happen – I usually fell into conversation with her parents. Parents fell in love with me; young women did not.
My pieces for creative writing in high school hold many interesting ideas, perhaps “insights” into my personal character. The characters in short stories are lonely, detached from the world. Never anything violent, or outside the norm; I wrote of people who merely existed, who indirectly ebb and flow out of others’ lives.
I wrote a story about Homecoming; it began with a spreadsheet of various girls and attributes, and ended with the narrator hanging up the phone on the girl, who was trying so hard to say no in a nice way.
I wrote of a young woman for whom the narrator’s heart pounded, recalling the first time they met, and recognizing no amorous relationship would result – she called him “cute,” a word which delegates any young man to the Siberia of hope. Along the way, the narrator recounted a girl who, when he made her aware of romantic feelings, was compelled to throw a pinecone at his head. She had impeccable aim given her height disadvantage.
With Cho, the media has focused on his past behavior, and more specifically, his writing. I think that is a terrible mistake, because neither are necessarily indicators for potential actions. Anyone who ventured through my notebooks of writings might conclude I am a mass romantic; at any given time, I might declare to ten or twenty young women I love them. A tragedy, for sure, but only in the Shakespearean sense.
I say, let us focus less on “overt” indicators, and focus on getting to know people. In hindsight, we know taking notice of his writing was not the proper action. Someone who took the time to genuinely get to know Cho, who sought to learn his life story, may have helped avert a tragedy.
Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.