6 years ago… A special announcement

Maroon & Orange RibbonSix years ago today, I was a sophomore at Virginia Tech. It seemed like a normal day as I rolled out of bed, saw some snow flurries out my window (normal for Blacksburg), and got ready to head to office hours for one of the crazy math classes I was taking. I put up my away message on AIM and as I grabbed my things, I heard a message come through and decided to check… it was from a friend telling me not to go anywhere. He told me that he was on lockdown in Torg and something was going on. I decided to stay put and flip on the news. At that point, I wasn’t too nervous. There had been a series of bomb threats over the past several weeks and that school year had started with a lockdown due to an escaped convict. Sad to say, but many of us Hokies were pretty immune to lockdowns and threats by the time April 16th rolled around, but we shouldn’t have been…

One PersonAs the news coverage continued and we began to uncover the full gravity of the situation, it was hard to grasp how such horrible events had unraveled in this close-knit college community. The number of dead and wounded classmates and teachers rose throughout the day. We’d seen the same piece of cellphone camera footage over and over again, but couldn’t look away. We were afraid to leave our dorm rooms, but also afraid to be alone. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve really grasped everything that happened that day or has happened as a result.

One of the many phrases that the Hokie community came up with to help move forward was “Live for 32.” It took a few years for the meaning of these words to sink in for me as well. Now I see that with each year that passes, I’ve done some amazing things – graduating, getting a job, buying a house, getting married, getting a promotion, adopting a furry family, and running my first marathon. What kinds of awesome things would those 32 Hokies have done over the last 6 years?

That brings me to a special announcement and something that I can’t wait to get off my chest as I feel I’ve been telling little white lies throughout the last few months… this year I’ve decided to go all out in my quest to Live for 32 by training for and competing in an Ironman Triathlon.

On August 25, 2013, I’ll be in Louisville, KY and beginning at 7am, I will swim 2.4 mi, bike 112 mi, then run a marathon all before midnight to become an Ironman.

Ok, so you are probably thinking one of a few things right now… “she’s crazy!” or maybe “why make this announcement today?” To the first comment, I’d say “yes, I probably am!” and to the second… I’m announcing this today because I want this experience to be about more than just me. I want it to be about the 32 Hokies who left us on April 16, 2007 and all other victims of horrific gun violence. Therefore, I’m raising money for the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention (CPSVP). The VT CPSVP builds on the academic, cultural, and security initiatives that evolved within the Virginia Tech community after the tragedy of April 16, 2007. The Center’s educational mission envisions a world informed by cross-disciplinary work in violence prevention research, education, and practice.

Click here to visit my fundraising page

Click here to learn more about CPSVP

Below you’ll see my initial email correspondence with the CPSVP which includes even more information about their recent initiatives..

Dr. Hawdon,

I am a Hokie. I graduated in December 2008 was in my sophomore year on April 16, 2007. I guess you could say I was one of the “lucky” ones who did not personally know any of the victims of that horrible day. However, with each passing year, it gets a little tougher, almost as if I know them better. I reflect on everything that I’ve done since that day… graduated, landed my first job, purchased my first house, gotten married, adopted a furry family, ran my first marathon… it makes me think of what each of the 32 Hokies who left us that day might have accomplished over the last 6 years. In short, it really makes me want to Live for 32.

The way I’ve decided to Live for 32 in 2013 is to complete my first Ironman Triathlon. That means swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and then running a full 26.2 mile marathon – all within 17 hours. I’ve already begun training and will be racing on August 25th in Louisville, Kentucky.

I want this experience to be about more than just me, and Ironman has an easy way to make that happen – through fundraising. I want to honor the 32 fallen Hokies by raising money for the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention throughout my training. I have absolutely no idea how much I’ll raise, but I’m going to give it a shot!

The catch to all this is that to fundraise through the Ironman Foundation, I need to be donating to a certified U.S. 501c3 charity and I want to make sure that the CPSVP falls into that category. Please let me know whether or not that is the case. If not, if you could help me by suggesting other similar charity organizations, I would really appreciate that.

Thank you so much for everything you do!

Jenn Feltis
VT Alumna
Class of 2008


I am very happy to hear from you, and I greatly appreciate your concern for the Hokie nation. That was a horrible day that touched us all, and I appreciate you keeping those who were lost in your heart. We keep in contact with many of the families who lost loved ones that day, and I know it provides some comfort to them to know people continue to remember. We are also very grateful for your generous offer to donate to the CPSVP. We are 501c3 and you would designate any donation to The Virginia Tech Foundation: Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. We thank you for any contribution you can make as we try to further the cause of peace, locally and globally, through research, education, and outreach.

Please let me give you a sense of some of the work we are doing here at CPSVP. In terms of research, center faculty members and the center’s affiliated faculty are conducting research in a wide range of topics related to violence and violence prevention. We have affiliated faculty members studying issues related to and the causes of violence ranging from school bullying to the Syrian revolution to war. I have just started a project on online hate communities and the influence these groups have on young people. It is a comparative study and I am working with colleagues in Finland. Another colleague of mine is leading a research team that is studying violence among and against refugees in Sri Lanka. We are partnering with scholars in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands on that project. A small group of us from sociology, human development/public health, computer science, geography, and bioinformatics are just beginning a project to document all gun violence in the U.S., including suicides, accidents, homicides, and incidents of self-defense. Our goal is to construct a massive dataset that scholars could easily access to conduct research on gun violence. We will also be conducting several studies using these data ourselves. We are also hosting a small conference of scholars in Rabat Morocco next September. About 10 leading scholars and seven VT students will meet in Morocco to discuss papers that we wrote and exchanged prior to the conference. These papers will be published in an anthology about the causes and consequences of group violence. These are just a handful of the dozens of projects that CPSVP-affiliated faculty are doing.

On the education front, we have developed a minor in Peace Studies that has just been approved by the university. We will begin enrolling students in the minor next semester. The minor offers two tracks: a global track that studies issues of international violence and a local track that focuses more on issues of violence here in the US. We continue to offer our capstone class, and we are excited to be offering our introductory class sometime in the next academic year (probably next spring semester). We held our second international student symposium on violence prevention last November. Approximately 50 young scholars from across the country and world came to our campus to present their research, learn from our esteemed keynote speaker and each other, and to extend the network of scholars dedicated to peace and non-violence. Our keynote speaker was the highly esteemed Johan Galtung. Dr. Galtung is credited as the founder of the academic discipline of Peace Studies. He has mediated over 150 international conflicts, published over 1600 academic articles and 150 books, and taught at nearly 100 universities across the globe. It was such an honor to have him visit us and offer our student participants two wonderful workshops on conflict meditation and reconciliation.

In terms of outreach, we continue to sponsor informative events and workshops. We sponsor public lectures, films, and workshops related all facets of violence and peace building. In fact, we are sponsoring a public lecture and all-day workshop on non-violent crisis intervention tonight and tomorrow. We also have several on-going student projects that try to promote non-violence in the campus and local community. For example, Students for Non-Violence (the Center’s student organization) is busy working on a project to extend the Hokie Spirit Garden Trail. The Pathways to Peace project will pave part of the campus-wide trail with stones dedicated to all the Hokies who lost their lives to violence since the University’s opening. We are also sponsoring several service-learning projects such as the two students who are going to a refugee camp in Kenya this summer to work help teach the children in the camp.

So, I hope you see we are busy and that we continue to strive for a safer, more peaceful world. We truly appreciate those who support our efforts and those who Live for 32.

I wish you the best and again express my sincere appreciation for your support.

Thank you.

James Hawdon
Director Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention
205a Norris Hall
MC 0911
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Click here to visit my fundraising page

Hokies Live Forever



  1. […] Donate Now! To my Ironman Louisville Race for a Cause to benefit the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention to honor the 32 Hokies who lost their lives on April 16, 2007. Learn more here! […]


  2. […] Donate Now! To my Ironman Louisville Race for a Cause to benefit the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention to honor the 32 Hokies who lost their lives on April 16, 2007. Learn more here! […]


  3. […] Donate Now! To my Ironman Louisville Race for a Cause to benefit the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention to honor the 32 Hokies who lost their lives on April 16, 2007. Learn more here! […]


  4. […] Donate Now! To my Ironman Louisville Race for a Cause to benefit the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention to honor the 32 Hokies who lost their lives on April 16, 2007. Learn more here! […]


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