About 200 people gathered in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium at the University of Virginia on the anniversary of last summer’s August 11 white supremacist tiki-torch march across Grounds, where a small number of students and faculty were encircled and beaten by angry men in white polos and khakis.
The ticketed event was called The Hope That Summons Us: A Morning of Reflection and Renewal, and it began with words from John Charles Thomas, a retired Virginia Supreme Court justice who now teaches appellate practice at the university’s law school.
“Hope gives us the courage to stand up against evil,” said Thomas, who reminded the audience that “light will conquer darkness” and “love is stronger than hate.”
Attendees honored the lives of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant Jay Cullen and Trooper Pilot Berke Bates, who died in Charlottesville last August 12, with a moment of silence. The university’s carillon bells tolled in their honor.
A few sniffles could be heard in the auditorium as most attendees bowed their heads. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, sat in the front row.
After songs, a poem and a multilingual reading, UVA President Jim Ryan shared a few words on his 11th day on the job.
“I cannot truly know the pain of others, but I can recognize it and stand with them,” he said, noting that he was not in Charlottesville during the violent events of last summer, though he watched them play out online. “In the face of tragedy, we can still find the strength to move forward, and we must.”
Ryan said one must have the “courage to be candid and open to self-examination,” and with that, he noted that two of the organizers of last year’s Unite the Right rally were, in fact, UVA graduates.
He said it’s easy to side against white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but harder to close the gap between aspirations and realities.
“How do we live our values?” he asked.
To start, he said UVA must acknowledge that gap still exists and admit to the mistakes it made last summer. The university must pledge to learn from its mistakes, and not be afraid to apologize.
Ryan had a message for the victims of the attack at the foot of the Thomas Jefferson statue on this day last year: “I am sorry. We are sorry.”
And with that, the president earned himself a standing ovation.