Keeping Vigil — Like 7,000 other members of the UNC Charlotte community, I attended last week’s vigil for the victims of the tragic shooting that took place on our campus on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A group of remarkable students organized and held the vigil just one day after the shooting. Bryn Chancellor and I sat together, and we both felt moved by the students’ compassion for the victims and victims’ families and the students’ resolve not to let this tragedy undermine their commitment to their university. Over and over, the students used the phrases “Niner strong” and “Charlotte strong” when expressing their responses to the shooting.
After the vigil, I retreated to the solitude of my office for half an hour and quietly reflected on the experience of attending the vigil. I started thinking about the word vigil and its sister word vigilance. Both words come from the Latin word vigilia, which means wakefulness. As the word has evolved, vigil now means staying awake, being watchful, keeping guard. The phrase keeping vigil means being present and attentive even when one would normally be tired or asleep.
For our students, the vigil that they attended last Wednesday gave them an opportunity to take comfort by spending time in the presence of their fellow students. It also provided them with an opportunity to articulate the importance of guarding, in a deliberate and attentive way, their identification with UNC Charlotte. That is why almost all of them wore their Forty-Niner tee shirts to the vigil. The students left the vigil knowing that they were about to face difficult days in the aftermath of the shooting, but they also came away with a renewed sense of vigilance in terms of their refusal to be defeated or defined by the shooting.
As a member of the UNC Charlotte community, I can relate to the sentiments expressed at our students’ vigil. However, my personal response to the shooting is also tied to my role as a faculty member. When I first learned of the shooting, I told my wife that this tragic event was taking away the joy that I have always associated with teaching. The day after the vigil, I spent nine hours in my office dealing with the aftermath of the shooting, meeting with distraught students and faculty members and attempting to answer the countless emails and phone calls about the hastily revised finals schedule. For much of that time, I just wanted to go home and take our dog for a walk. For a few minutes, I even contemplated retirement, but then I thought about the students’ vigil. I thought about their resolve not to let the shooting rob them of their college education, and it dawned on me that I could and should learn from our students and emulate their vigilance.
I left my office about 6:30 on Thursday evening feeling physically tired but also feeling like I had just awakened. I realized that I needed to stand guard against the temptation to let the shooting and its aftermath undermine my commitment to teaching our students. As I drove home that evening, it occurred to me that I wasn’t just keeping long office hours that day; I was, in my own way, keeping vigil.
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
May 8 — Paula Martinac will launch her new novel, Clio Rising, at Park Road Books on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, at 7:00 p.m.
May 11 — The Commencement for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will take place on Saturday, May 11, 2019, at 3:00 p.m.
May 14 — Final grades for the Spring 2019 term must be submitted by Tuesday, May 14, 2019, at noon.
Quirky Quiz Question — The third president of the United States once wrote, “Let the eye of vigilance never be closed.” What is the name of this president?
Last week’s answer: Queen’s University
Deje McGavran taught as a lecturer in our English Department for several years before joining the faculty in the English Department at a sister institution of higher education. What is the name of this sister institution?