By Dani Moritz-Long
Forty-nine souls lost — 49 innocent lives ripped from this earth … and for what? Because they acted differently from someone’s preconceived notion of what it means to be normal? Because they looked different, loved differently?
A year later, I’m still grappling to understand — to make some sense of what I can only discern to be a senseless tragedy.
But while I cannot find reason behind the Pulse massacre, nor do I think I ever will, Valencia, Orlando and the world has helped me find meaning and, more importantly, hope.
As we have lit the flames of our candles in unison across the continents, held hands with strangers and loved ones alike, bowed our heads in silent solidarity, raised our voices in protest against hate and transformed our landmarks — near and far — into beacons of pride, we have been awoken and found the strength to fight for peace, for love and for justice.
Yesterday and last week, as Valencians joined to remember those 49 innocent people, including seven of our own, I cried new tears of remorse, but I also found a renewed sense of optimism and courage.
Together, we planted trees — rooted in the symbolism of new life, to be nurtured and honored. We granted scholarships to those who vow to use their education to make a difference. We heard from those whose lives are forever changed — professors who returned to empty classroom seats, an officer who rescued so many, students who now live in fear and the family of student Cory Connell, whose family’s fabric will never be the same. We bowed our heads in silence. We found peace through the moving harmony of music, which honored the heroism of those who have fought for justice and the ever-enduring importance of love. We heard from our colleagues and leaders, who inspired us and moved us, who reminded us of our duty to each other.
“We cannot be silent,” warned West Campus President Falecia Williams. “We cannot be indifferent, and we cannot be apathetic.”
“See with eyes unclouded by hate,” Mayra Holzer, professor, speech and Peace and Justice Institute facilitator, said.
“Now, we’ve been awakened,” proclaimed College President Sandy Shugart, “and we must stay awake.”
Staying awake, to me, is the most important thing we can do and the best way to honor the lives of those gone too soon. As Dr. Shugart warned, the Pulse atrocity, while deeply personal due to the proximity to our home, is but one atrocity of hundreds happening all over the world: the Mexican border, the South-side of Chicago and abroad.
And so, as we mourn together, we must find the strength to seek change, to create a brighter future for new generations, a world where we do not repeat the same mistakes.
“We all have the agency to make a difference,” Dr. Shugart explained, so it’s up to each of us to do just that — so that those we lost in the Pulse and those who die in needless killings every day do not die in vain.
Together, we remember. Together, we are strong. Together, we can and will change the world.