A Message from Wendy Givoglu, Interim President, East and Winter Park Campuses
In 2016, Orlando experienced one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history. Our community in Orlando — and at Valencia College — came together in solidarity. Three years later, the pain and the initial shock of the day are still not far from our minds, but it is through events and daily actions that we honor those who lost their lives that night.
On Tuesday, June 11, 2019, the Office of Student Development and Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) welcomed more than 70 faculty, staff, students and community members for a remembrance ceremony on East Campus. Student Government Association President Marcus Goss and Gay Straight Alliance President Nico Allen introduced speakers and performers for the service. Speakers included East and Winter Park Campus President Stacey Johnson, Representative to the Florida House Carlos Guillermo Smith and Pulse survivor Angelica Jones.
The ceremony began in the screening theater of the School of Arts and Entertainment. Stacey welcomed the audience and shared her thoughts, including this affirmation: “When we stand together today, we never forget; when we stand together today, we reflect on the grief we shared; when we stand together today, we remember our loved ones; when we stand together today, we remember our students, and we stand together today, with resolve, to use love and peace in the place of death and hate.”
Stacey then welcomed Carlos Guillermo Smith who spoke about the resilience of the Orlando community, even three years after the tragedy. Following Carlos, Emma Thompson and Brandon Martin, two members of the Orlando Gay Chorus, performed a moving rendition of “The Prayer.”
East Campus was honored to be joined by Angelica Jones, a survivor of the attack. A performer who is clearly at home on stage, Angelica had a beautiful presence and her story stayed with the audience long after she returned to her seat. She spoke about her life, what brought her to Pulse, where she worked as an entertainer for almost 11 years, and her experience the night of the attack. She also shared the history of the building and the reason why it stood as a safe haven in the community.
Additional songs were performed: one by Juliet Rosa of the Theater Opera Project and another by Emma Thompson. Administrative Assistant and Gay/Straight Alliance Advisor Jon Taylor then invited the audience to walk to the Pulse Memorial on campus, passing through signage that paid tribute to every victim, and then to lay a rainbow rose on the site honoring the seven Valencia students lost.
The ceremony outside was brief but poignant. Valencia students who we lost at Pulse — Amanda, Oscar, Cory, Mercedes, Juan, Jason and Luis — were honored as their names were read at the site by current Valencia College student Amy Sanabria of Student Development. The signage with the photos of these seven surrounded the memorial and spoke of the people they were before the night of Sunday, June 12, 2016.
The final sentence shared before departing was, “I hope that years into the future, people who visit this memorial will see a memory of our past and their present day milestone of how far humanity has come.”