WISE - Standing room only, three levels high, it takes a lot of love to fill the University of Virginia's College at Wise Slemp Student Center.
But fill it, love did, along with hundreds of UVa-Wise and Mountain Empire Community College students, and Wise Countians from all walks of life, to pay respects to Virginia Tech, the living as well as the dead, a shared embrace that spanned the nation and the world on Thursday night.
"Now is the time to come together to be one," freshman Lauren Griffen and coordinator of Thursday's candlelight campus vigil said to a crammed Slemp Student Center lobby and two balcony floors draped with students armed with candles, many wearing Virginia Tech apparel or the Hokie maroon and orange.
Carroll Dale, UVa-Wise assistant vice chancellor for athletic development, thanked all who came to "honor the Virginia Tech nation." Dale was a star football player at Virginia Tech from 1956-59 and played on the great Green Bay Packers teams under the legendary Vince Lombardi.
"There's been a lot of suffering going on all week," Dale said, "and it's great to be a part of the UVa-Wise unity effort ... (and) I do appreciate you with all my heart."
Baptist Collegiate Ministries Rev. Jim Collie spoke of his two sons who graduated from Virginia Tech and said what was happening at UVa-Wise Thursday night was occurring simultaneously "all around the state of Virginia and across the country, and perhaps places all around the world."
Collie was equipped with a pair of official stuffed animal Hokie gobblers, apparently borrowed from his grandchildren. If he didn't return the mini-mascot caricatures of Virginia Tech to their owners soon, Collie said there likely would be "a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old on my case."
Collie's message to students was from the New Testament gospel of Paul providing advice on love, perseverance and a range of Christian values.
"Don't let evil get the best of you," he said. "Get the best of evil by doing good."
But the overwhelming message that echoed across the tiny campus was one of reaching out and becoming a force of good in the lives of others, particularly and most especially the dispossessed, the outcast, the scorned.
"This is the time for we as a nation to discuss the deeper implications to the cause of this tragedy," said Wesley Fellowship UVa-Wise Campus Minister Rev. Beth Tipton.
Instead of shunning "weirdos," Tipton said, they should be embraced with love.
"I've seen churches make outcasts of so-called weirdos," she said, when it should be "our mission to seed the hope and bring (them) love."
Tipton said it is time for all peoples to "wake up" and reach out with love "to the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the scorned" among us.
She also reminded there are 33 families shattered by shock and grief, not just 32.
"We must reach out in love to all families," she said. "Give the gift of love and forgiveness in memory of the lives we celebrate tonight."
Sophomore Jekeyma Robinson, a student government senator and residence adviser, said what occurred at Virginia Tech made him "realize the reality of what hate, bitterness and isolation can do. We must learn to accept everyone for who they are."
Something special and good can blossom from what happened, he said.
"Tonight, we are more than a college. More than a state," Robinson said. "We are a people, and we will stand."
Freshman Luke Parks, also a student senator and a residence hall representative, reminded that Jesus hung out with outcasts. Jesus focused on the inner being, not the shell it was housed in, Parks said.
"We can all make a difference in the lives of all we come in contact with," he said. "Actions speak louder than words."
"The Gift of Love" and "It Is Well With My Soul" were performed by the campus jazz ensemble, The Wise Guys. After the last song, students filed out of the Slemp Center toward their candlelight march around the campus lake.
K-12 Wise County public students in all 16 schools are encouraged to wear the maroon and orange today. Their older brothers and sisters at UVa-Wise lit the way to wear it with pride on Thursday night.