Twilight vigil on campus remembers Orlando victims

June 27, 2016

The clear, gentle tones of a “Tibetan singing bowl” chimed 49 times in affecting extended succession to open a Prayer Vigil of Remembrance Sunday at dusk on the Saint Michael’s College main campus green — one tone for each victim of the massacre in an Orlando nightclub two weeks earlier.

“It really called home the number of people that were lost, invoking the fear and tragedy and sorrow all at the same time,” said Michael Bosia of the College’s political science faculty, a scholar of LGBT issues who was one of the vigil’s chief organizers. “The turnout of close to 100 people was amazing, and the tone of the vigil was so respectful and sweet.”

Other vigil organizers were the MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts) office of Edmundite Campus Ministry — particularly Brianna Lambert ‘19, the office’s summer student worker, according to MOVE director Lara Scott, who also played a part. Vigil participation from the Edmundite Community, founding Catholic order of the College, included an opening prayer by local superior Rev. David Theroux and a Scripture reading from Brother Thomas Berube, with several other Edmundites in attendance.

The program, just short of an hour as the sun set, included prayers, the reading of support statements — one by President Jack Neuhauser and another, read by Morgan Livoli ’17, from the Edmundites; the  lighting of a candle for each victim, readings of poems, prose and Scripture, a performance of Leonard Cohen’s haunting “Hallelujah” by alumnus Greg Niquette ’95 on guitar/vocal, and a shared physical sign of peace among the gathered.

“We at Saint Michael’s College are proud to be in solidarity with the LGBTQ and Latinx communities and those who died in the tragedy in Orlando,” said Scott after the event, speaking alongside student Brianna Lambert and Edmundite Rev. Michael Cronogue.

Bosia said he and, he sensed, students, were impressed and touched by “the strong presence of the administration,” at the vigil, represented by the president along with Karen Talentino, vice president for academic affairs; Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs; and Patrick Gallivan, vice president for community and governmental relations. Bosia said he was gratified also to see large numbers of both recent-alumni graduates and current summer students. “And of course we had strong numbers of LGBT faculty, staff and students who were there as the heart and soul of the experience, who were able to really feel the solidarity and support of the community,” he said.

An important motivator for organizing the vigil was “to make the victims present,” Bosia said. “This was an act of hate that targeted two communities — LGBT and Latino — and we wanted to acknowledge the individuals.” The event also was important as an act of solidarity, he said, “the sign that those of us on campus who were specially touched by the massacre, who felt that close emotional bond with the victims, could find support and solace from the community around us.”

Bosia says he chose the Langston Hughes poem that he read during the vigil because it “really expresses that sense of being isolated in a community for those who seek justice,” whatever minority that might be. Passages from the poem, starting “Let America Be America Again,” included such lines as “There’s never been equality for me; Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.’”… or, “Sure, call me any ugly name you choose …”, and  “America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath – America will be!”

Ben Campbell Rosbrook ‘15 who graduated in 2015 and was leader of the campus group Common Ground in his senior year, drove up to Vermont for the vigil from Syracuse where he now lives, and read a selection from James Baldwin’s book Giovanni’s Room. In the ecumenical spirit of the event, Stan Baker, a deacon at Burlington’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, offered the closing prayer.

The New Testament epistle of Saint Paul chosen by Edmundite Brother Berube to read at the vigil was the well-known Chapter 13 of First Corinthians, beginning: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal…” and continuing, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….” And concluding “So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

The Edmundites’ official statement on the tragedy, read by a student Sunday night, stated: “As Edmundites we learn from and serve people on the margins of society. We see how the LGBT community is too often devalued, discriminated against, and distrusted … If any one of our members hurt, we enter into that pain with empathy, compassion and a willingness to advance healing.”

And President Neuhauser’ statement, which he also read at the vigil, concluded: “As Abraham Lincoln said nearly a century and a half ago, we must now rededicate ourselves to finishing the task. While this requires concerted political action to be sure, it also requires a change of heart and a commitment in each of us to open our hearts to understanding and acceptance that eschews simplistic answers and always keeps our eyes on what we can become when people of good will work together.”

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