BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -They came throughout the day - some bearing flowers, others wiping away a stray tear. They moved slowly, reverently on the gently curving path in front of Burruss Hall, pausing to look at each of the names engraved on 32 distinctive chunks of ``Hokie Stone.''
Nicole Regina White. Daniel Patrick O'Neil. Matthew Gregory Gwaltney. Ross A. Alameddine.
``To me, this is like the first day in the beginning of a healing process,'' Charles Bray said Friday, he and his wife, Becky, having just strolled past the somber memorial that now occupies a place of honor at his alma mater.
Come Saturday, there will be a commemoration of a different sort. More than 66,000 people - most of them adorned in the gaudy school colors, maroon and orange - will cram every nook and cranny of Lane Stadium to watch their beloved Hokies take on East Carolina in the first game of a new college football season.
``When you talk about 'We will prevail and get on with our lives,' sometimes it's sort of hard,'' Bray said. ``When is it appropriate to not cry, to not mourn. When is it appropriate to cheer? I think football will make that evident.''
Reema Joseph Samaha. Caitlin Millar Hammaren. Rachel Elizabeth Hill. Waleed Mohamed Shaalan.
Even now, more than four months later, it doesn't seem possible that the worst mass shooting in modern American history could befall an idyllic campus such as Virginia Tech, nestled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains, far away from any hustle and bustle.
Then you see all those names carved in stone, each of them representing a life that was cut short so senselessly. They were the ones who paid when a deranged student - one of them, no less - decided to unleash his rage.
Now it's time for football. The survivors are eager to scream and yell and show the rest of the nation that the Hokie Nation is getting along fine, even though they'll never forget that bitter April day.
``I suspect there will be a lot of tears shed,'' Bray said. ``But I think by the end of the game, there will be a lot of cheering. Maybe we'll have a better feeling about things.''
Matthew Joseph La Porte. Jocelyne Couture-Nowak. Leslie Geraldine Sherman. Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz.
Certainly, far too much importance is placed on football at far too many institutions where learning is supposed to be the main purpose. At so many colleges and universities, the dominant building on campus is the football stadium, and Virginia Tech is no different.
Three sides of Lane Stadium are enclosed by towering stands, taller than anything else at this rural outpost. A giant scoreboard looms over the fourth side, the words ``Home of the Hokies'' staring at those on the outside.
On the first day of September, though, this game will serve a higher purpose. Healing and joy and remembrance will all come together, perhaps the perfect way to honor the 32 Hokies who won't be here.
``As much as we want to keep it in our minds and in our hearts, we have to move on,'' said Blake Belcher, a junior who, like so many others, wore a maroon Hokies shirt on campus Friday. ``This is definitely going to be one thing that helps us move on.''
Kevin P. Granata. Jarrett Lee Lane. Christopher James Bishop. Maxine Shelly Turner.
Before the game, everyone will have plenty of chances to mourn. A moment of silence is planned. Several Air Force jets will roar over the stadium after the national anthem. East Carolina is presenting a check for $100,000 to a memorial fund at Virginia Tech. A minute-long video honoring the victims and urging the survivors to carry on will be shown on that giant scoreboard, capped off by enduring words of poetry professor Nikki Giovanni at a campus memorial shortly after the killings: ``We will prevail, we will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.''
Thirty-two orange balloons, one for each of Seung-Hui Cho's victims, will be released into the air.
Minal Hiralal Panchal. Ryan Christopher Clark. Emily Jane Hilscher. G.V. Logannathan.
Just before kickoff, the Virginia Tech band will take its usual position at The Avery Tunnel, from which the Hokies charge onto the field under a sign that reads ``For those who have passed, for those to come, reach for excellence.'' Only this time, they'll come in at the same time as East Carolina, which will emerge from the opposite end through a line provided by Virginia Tech's Corp of Cadets band.
For the coin toss, both teams will send out their entire senior classes as well as their head coaches, Frank Beamer from Virginia Tech and Skip Holtz from East Carolina. Hokies athletic director Jim Weaver has sent an open letter to the fans, asking them to refrain from booing any opponents this season.
``I don't think there's any question that our people just want to be together,'' Beamer said Friday, sitting on the home bench at Lane Stadium after leading his team in a 40-minute walkthrough. ``This gives an opportunity for 60-something thousand to be together and show how much we care about each other, and show the nation on national TV that we're stronger than ever. And I do believe we are.''
Mary Karen Read. Jeremy Michael Herbstritt. Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan. Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva.
Beamer knows how important this game is, this season is. The Hokies start out ranked No. 9 in the country, a talented squad that could heal some of the lingering wounds with a championship. Maybe another Atlantic Coast Conference title. Maybe even a national title.
``People are relying on us to give them something to be unified about,'' the coach said. ``They want to rally around this football team. What we've got to keep in mind is that as big as that is, as big as what you're playing for, it all gets down to taking care of that next play.''
The campus appears largely back to normal, other than 24-hour security for all dorms and foreboding yellow signs that hang at each entrance to Norris Hall, where 30 of the victims lost their lives and Cho took his: ``Valid Virginia Tech ID required for entry.''
Linebacker Vince Hall has noticed another, more subtle change. Before, there seemed to be a wall between the athletes and the rest of the student body. No more.
``When you walk around, they're always saying something to you,'' Hall said. Before the shooting, ``sometimes they'd be scared to talk to you because you were an athlete. But now, we're all Hokies.''
Julia Kathleen Pryde. Erin Nicole Peterson. Austin Michelle Cloyd. Liviu Librescu.
The new monument was constructed in the same order as an impromptu memorial that went up shortly after the shootings. The names aren't alphabetical. There's no way to tell who was a student and who was a professor unless you knew the victims personally.
And, of course, each name was engraved in ``Hokie Stone,'' the dominant building material on the gothic-style campus.
``It's like a precious jewel,'' Bray said, taking cover under a tree when afternoon showers rolled in. ``Every jewel naturally looks different. Look at those stones. Each one is different, like each one of those children and professors were different.''
Henry J. Lee. Michael Steven Pohle Jr. Lauren Ashley McCain. Brian Roy Bluhm.

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