Are we Hokies?

Apr 232007
Authors: Daniel GibsonReinemer

I pose the question as a challenge.

In the wake of last Monday’s tragedy, the Virginia Tech community has shown tremendous strength, courage, and spirit. As a native Virginian who has long admired the university, I was immensely proud to see the community’s amazing character shine through in times of terrible loss.

After September 11, Jean-Marie Colombani of France’s Le Monde paper declared, “We are all Americans.” The message of sympathy and unity with the victims is one which we have again embraced; our hearts are with the stunned and mourning families.

But our reactions should also convey the sense that the Hokies of Virginia Tech embody the community to which we should aspire. Let us now declare, “We all want to be Hokies.”

What is a Hokie, exactly?

According to a Virginia Tech Web site (, the term “hokie” has a somewhat malleable definition. Retired Virginia Tech professor Johann Norstedt described it as “a word that people used to express feeling, approval, excitement, surprise. Hokie, then, is a word like ‘hooray,’ or ‘yeah,’ or ‘rah.'”

From the depths of this senseless loss will come a new meaning to the word. Those in our nation and world who never knew the definition of “hokie” now have one provided by the Virginia Tech community.

It comes from the courage with which Professor Liviu Librescu sacrificed his life and gave students time to flee, and the bravery of Zach Petkewicz and other students who blocked a classroom door to keep those inside from harm.

It comes from the words of the poet and Virginia Tech Professor Nikki Giovanni, who powerfully asserted at last Tuesday’s convocation, “We are the Hokies. We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail!”

It comes from the spontaneous eruption of Hokie chants, and the unity of the voices, which followed Giovanni’s words.

It comes from Joseph Samaha, the father of victim Reema Samaha, who spoke so eloquently in the immediate aftermath of his daughter’s death. He was the first to bring us out of our shock to focus on the beauty of the lives which were lost, displaying an almost superhuman ability to let the power of love transcend the bitterness of death.

In their response to this tragedy, the Hokies have shown strength, compassion, dignity, and overwhelming courage – the new definition of a Hokie the world now knows.

In the news coverage of the past days, several commentators questioned the associations the names Blacksburg and Virginia Tech would carry in our national consciousness. Many predicted they would resonate with tones of horror and tragedy.

Though the sense of overwhelming loss will echo in these names, the true contribution to the national lexicon which will emerge this week will be Hokie.

As London during the blitz is remembered for its resilience, so, too, will Virginia Tech be remembered for its tremendous spirit in the face of brutality.

Drenched with grief but alive with love for the fallen, the Hokies give us all hope.

God bless the Hokies, and let us pray we might be as strong as they are.

Daniel Gibson-Reinemer is a fishery and wildlife biology masters student. His column appears every Tuesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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