May 6, 2010

Vigil Starts UVA Students on Path to Atonement

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Photos: Yeardley Love Vigil

Two University of Virginia students console each other Wednesday during a vigil for slain women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love.

© Matt Riley

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Thousands of students came together in the University of Virginia’s amphitheater for a candlelight vigil Wednesday to honor Yeardley Love, a fourth-year lacrosse player who was killed Monday. The ceremony commemorated Love, and tried to reconcile the ideal of what Virginia president John Casteen called “a community of trust” with her violent death allegedly at the hands of a fellow student, men’s lacrosse player George Huguely.

“This is the springtime, a time of year for renewal and new beginnings, and yet we’ve come to grieve the ending of life, of Yeardley Love’s life, one full of promise and prospects, not unlike yours,” Casteen said in his address.

The ceremony opened with an a cappella performance by the Virginia Belles. As they sang The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You,” a song about protection and solidarity, candlelight slowly spread from student to student across the lawn and lower bowl of the amphitheater. At least 17 video cameras and countless photographers and reporters captured each moment as it unfolded, as the Love case has grown into a national phenomenon in the days since the story first broke.

But the speakers at the vigil focused relentlessly on the university, alternately decrying violence and pleading with their fellow Cavaliers to speak and act out against it.

“Yeardley did nothing to deserve to be attacked and beaten, to deserve to die,” said Casteen. “My hope for Yeardley, and for you, is that it inspires anger and outrage that no one in this place, this community, this state need ever fear for violence."

Casteen encouraged people in toxic relationships, and those who bear witness to them, to seek help from him, from the university and from the police.

“Seek the support that belongs to you, because you belong to us,” said Casteen. “Take with yourself a sense of vicious loss and tuck it away in your soul, that not Yeardley Love, nor anyone ever attacked, has ever deserved it."

After Casteen’s remarks, fourth-year class president Sarah Elaine Hart addressed her fellow students, saying that in the wake of Love’s death, many called her “the sweetest, kindest, most beautiful individual they came into contact with on the Grounds, and indeed in their lifetime.”

Hart also condemned Love’s murder as “the most egregious violation of this community of trust.”

Student government president Colin Hood spoke last.

“We own the issue of violence now, in our own midst, as assuredly as it exists in society at large,” said Hood, who implored students to make use of the university’s resources to protect themselves and others from violence.

The students in attendance were quiet and subdued throughout most of the ceremony, at least until the very end.

The vigil concluded with another a cappella performance, a stirring cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away” by the Virginia Gentlemen. As the choir’s voices grew stronger and bolder, singing lyrics begging the listener to face injustice instead of looking away, a few sharp sobs broke into the soft night air.

Vigil attendee Jasmine Paul, 20, did not know either Love or Huguely, although she lived near Love. Coming home early Monday morning, Paul saw the ambulances that were called to the victim’s residence, but assumed that they were associated with a nearby hospital, since violence in Charlottesville is so rare. She was stunned when she heard the story the next day.

“If you lose something like an ID or money here, you get an e-mail from the person who found it. If you lose something, it turns up in the Lost and Found, even if they’re $200 sunglasses or something,” said Paul. “It’s shocking. Shocking.”

After the ceremony concluded, a group of seven students from the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle and said a quiet prayer.

“We prayed for the uplifting of the student body, and for Yeardley, and for [Huguely],” said Courtney Springer, 18, a first year from Hampton, Va.

Barrett Jacobsen, 20, a sophomore from Virginia Beach and a member of Chi Alpha, thought the vigil was a good way for the Virginia community to come together and to support each other and the Love family.

“You realize how incredibly blessed to be so safe and supported here, and you wonder how something like this could happen,” said Jacobsen.

For first-year student Tommy Dively, 19, it had a different effect.

“It makes you appreciate your mortality,” said Dively. “At one point, Yeardley was a first year and had no idea something like this would happen to her just before her graduation.”

After the ceremony concluded, many students lingered in the amphitheater. Several placed their tea lights on the stage as a makeshift memorial, a small bit of flicking light during a dark time for the Virginia community.

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