Oklahoma State University is a school steeped in tradition, and one of the most prominent is our annual homecoming celebration. It’s touted as one of the biggest in the nation and for good reason: nearly one hundred thousand people fill the campus to the point of bursting as they walk along University Avenue to look at homecoming decorations in front of Greek houses, take photos with our mascot Pistol Pete, and spend the weekend steeped in the lore and traditions of their alma mater.
Unfortunately, this year’s celebration was marred by a horrible tragedy that took place as Saturday morning pre-game parade was wrapping up. In a matter of seconds four people lost their lives and ten times that many were injured when a car drove through several barricades and a police motorcycle only to crash into a sidewalk full of spectators. The weekend went from celebration to catastrophe, and our whole community mourned the loss of life amid what is normally such a fun, carefree weekend. The next few days saw the beginning of the long and painful process of rebuilding from the ashes and finding a way to get back to some semblance of normalcy both on campus and in town. That’s the thing about tragedy: the world continues to turn and the sun always rises. The question, then, is what you are going to do when it does.
For me and most of Stillwater and OSU the answer involves getting back to life as normal, or what is now considered as such in light of the tragic loss of life. As classes resumed the following Monday a noticeable pall was cast over campus, and normally vibrant quarters of student life were subdued and quiet. The sidewalk path leading up to my building at work was decorated with flowers from those who worked with Bonnie Stone, who worked one floor below me and lost her life in the car crash, paused to remember her and leave small tokens of their sympathy for her friends and family. But slowly things are coming to life again: classes continue, clubs hold meetings, and the Student Union’s scheduled open mic comedy nights are still happening. That’s life, and it always goes on as it always must.
This brings me, via a long and winding road, to this week’s photo. On Tuesday morning after Homecoming I was walking with two friends to the small convenience store inside the Union when when we passed by these two ladies quietly studying near one corner of the campus garden. Perhaps they were finding their own way to move on after the awful events of the weekend, or perhaps that wasn’t even on their minds and they were simply seeking out a quiet place to study. Either way I thought it symbolized how people always find a way to move on after tragedy, and I asked if I could take their picture. They agreed so I knelt down, fired off one single shot, and returned to my friends. We all have to find our own way of returning to lives in the wake of events like this: these girls were doing their best, and so was the rest of campus.