It was the worst of times and the best of JMU

Five years ago today, we all sat stunned at the news unfolding in Blacksburg. For anyone who knew the open and friendly climate of the Virginia Tech campus, it seemed incomprehensible.

Yet it was painfully real.

Five years ago today, JMU didn’t stand by wringing its hands. It acted. The university’s response to the tragedy was immediate and heartfelt. The JMU community organized a moment of silence to coincide with the April 17 convocation on the Tech campus and the SGA organized a Light Vigil. A banner that read, “Thinking of our friends at Virginia Tech” spread out across the University Recreation Center. Virginia Tech’s flag flew at half-staff in front of Integrated Science and Technology. Orange and maroon streamers fluttered from the I-81 bypass signaling to anyone passing that JMU was standing in solidarity with Virginia Tech. For a time, JMU’s website colors were Tech’s colors. Hokie colors. In fact, purple and gold shirts all over campus were replaced by orange and maroon.

JMU staff members and students traveled to Blacksburg to help any way they could. At the same time, JMU was counting down to its own centennial. As one more tribute to Virginia Tech, the SGA commissioned a Centennial Duke Dog to be painted with Hokie colors.

After the tide calmed, after the media trucks left Blacksburg, and after purple and gold returned to JMU’s campus, the university community continued to help. In addition to ongoing assistance by JMU’s student union, Dr. Anne Stewart and Dr. Lennie Echterling added their own brand of help.

“Dr. Stewart …. developed and distributed handouts for teachers, parents, and concerned volunteers addressing the psychological impact of this traumatic event. The material proved to be immensely helpful and popular in the region and across the country. Dr. Stewart and …, Dr. Lennie Echterling, conducted resilience-based workshops at VT to support the faculty and staff returning to campus. Dr. Gerald Lawson of VT stated that the workshops “helped to set the groundwork for the on-going recovery that we continue to tend to today.”*

Last fall I was in Blacksburg walking through Squire’s Student Center when I had a strange moment of deja vu. Beside the stairs in the heart of the building, surrounded by dozens of busy Tech students, I saw a Duke Dog. Painted maroon and orange. As incongruous as it seemed, I had to smile. I knew what it meant.

The worst of times often brings out the best in us all. It brought out the best of JMU. And it represents a partnership in higher education that trumps all other rivalries. As the memory of April 16, 2007, fades like a vague fog descending over the event now five years past, we should always hold on to what it provoked, and what it says about us all.

In the final analysis, it says we are all human and we need each other.

To see more pictures of the Hokie Duke Dog, visit


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

2 Responses to It was the worst of times and the best of JMU

  1. Pingback: Virginia Tech Hokies Dog Jersey

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks for a tender commentary on a day that touched many of us more closely than we could have imagined.


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