Douglas High graduate attends Tucson shooting memorial |

Douglas High graduate attends Tucson shooting memorial

by Thomas Wicker

As I returned to the campus of the University of Arizona just two short days after the horrific shooting in Tucson on Jan. 8, I came back to a community searching for direction. I have many close friends at the university who were directly impacted by the tragedy, including a few friends who shared high school classes with the shooter, as well as a friend who is an intern for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was invited to (but could not attend) the event at the Tucson Safeway where Giffords was shot.

In response, our first day of classes was cancelled to give university students and faculty the opportunity to be a part of the memorial service for the victims, which was held at our own McKale Center on Jan. 12. The event was marked by multiple guest speakers, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and President Barack Obama.

I had the privilege, along with 14,000 others, of attending the service in the McKale Center, with thousands more watching from the scoreboard in the adjacent football stadium. Although the service began at 6 p.m., I was waiting outside of the arena with countless others from noon until around 5 p.m. Some of my peers had been there since 9 the previous evening, making it clear that the service was to be the most important event in recent Tucson history.

I was initially disappointed in the motives of many of the students around me waiting outside on Wednesday. While some of my peers were jostling for positions in line to catch a glimpse of President Obama, it seemed as if they were there out of reverence for a celebrity and not in remembrance of the victims of a tragedy.

However, once inside the arena, the entire mindset of the crowd changed. With the first words from University President Robert Shelton’s opening address, it was clear that the attendees had gone from a frustrated, selfish crowd to a cohesive community paying their respects to the victims of a tragedy that struck the heart of the city. Each speech was given with the utmost sincerity and respect, and the crowd responded accordingly.

The speeches themselves were incredibly effective. They each succeeded in balancing respect for the victims with words of hope for a city in grief. President Obama punctuated the memorial with one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard, in which he revealed that Rep. Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting just minutes after Obama’s departure from the University Medical Center. The President pleaded for America to live up to the innocent and trustful expectations of children like the 9-year old Christina Green, who was killed in the Jan. 8 incident. He encouraged the citizens of Tucson to live their lives as a measure of “how much we have loved,” and started the healing process in a positive way for everyone who was affected by the tragedy.

When I returned to my dorm from the service, my roommate, who had watched it on TV, told me that he felt the frequent cheers from the crowd were inappropriate for the occasion. I disagreed with him, but when I saw television footage of the President’s speech, I could see how he reached that conclusion. Due to the way the audio footage translated onto TV, I was able to understand how many people felt that the President might have used the memorial as a rally of sorts, as he was met with emotive responses at the turn of every poignant phrase. However, I must strongly dispel any notions that the memorial was used as a “pep rally” of any kind for the politicians who honored the city by speaking at the event.

While the TV footage made it seem as if the audience responded with rowdy cheers and cries of excitement over the President’s words, the reality of the situation couldn’t be further from the truth. When the President, or any of the speakers for that matter, said something of particular importance or meaning, the crowd reacted accordingly by standing and clapping in agreement and out of respect to the victims. It was apparent that 99 percent of the crowd was respectfully clapping, while a handful of attendees were cheering in affirmation of the words said, not out of infatuation with the man who spoke them. By virtue of the cheering being louder than the clapping, the TV audio made it seem as if the entire crowd was cheering and screaming wildly at every chance given.

This was not the case, as any and all applause that occurred was the best way for the audience members to express their unquestioned support for anyone who was adversely affected by the shooting. I hope that those who are looking to find an underlying political vein to the event can put aside their misconceptions and see the memorial for what it really was: a powerful service for the victims of a senseless tragedy, and a symbol of healing that the ravaged city of Tucson desperately needed.

Overall, the memorial was tender and touching, and it was handled with the utmost care and respect for everyone involved. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to attend the event. I can firmly say that as I exited McKale Center on Jan. 12, I felt that I have never been more proud to be an Arizona Wildcat, and I have never been more proud to be an American.

Thomas Wicker is a 2010 Douglas High School graduate. He’s attending the University of Arizona, Tucson.