Virginia Tech awards degrees

In an address to about 600 of the nearly 1,200 graduate students who received master’s degrees, Virginia Tech president Charles Steger spoke to the community’s grief while encouraging the graduates to be proud of their accomplishments and hopeful for their futures.


“Our hearts are saddened and our minds are troubled,” Steger said.

A larger ceremony for some 3,600 graduating seniors was set for the evening, where the school planned to issue class rings to relatives of the 26 slain students, followed by diplomas in smaller ceremonies tomorrow.

“Short was their stay on this mortal stage. Great was their impact,” Steger said of the killed students.

Gunman Seung-hui Cho also killed five faculty members and himself.

His family will not receive a ring or diploma.

During the graduate ceremonies, nine slain graduate students were awarded posthumous master’s degrees or doctorates. Faculty members hugged the relatives who received them, some wiping away tears and all drawing long and loud applause from the crowd of several thousand.

Security employees checked the bags of guests, armed police officers patrolled the grounds and state troopers stood guard at every entrance.

Guests did not have to pass through metal detectors, though, and school officials said the level of security was comparable to what they would see at a home football game.

Some families could not bear to attend graduation. Others said they had no choice but to come.

“We have to. This is right for us,” said Peter Read, whose freshman daughter Mary Karen Read was among those killed.

Peter and Cathy Read returned to campus for more than their daughter’s degree. They also returned to erase an unsettling image from the minds of their two youngest sons, Patrick, four, and Brendan, two.

“They’re a little concerned that the bad man’s going to shoot them,” Cathy Read said. “We can’t let that idea grow in their heads.”

In Washington, President George W Bush issued a statement praising “the compassion and resilient spirit” of the Virginia Tech community and the 3,600 graduating seniors and others earning advanced or associate degrees.

“Laura and I salute the Virginia Tech Class of 2007. We also remember the students and teachers whose lives were taken last month,” he said. “They will always hold a special place in the hearts of this graduating class and an entire nation.”

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