Dozens of students and community members gathered on Ho Plaza Saturday night for a candlelight vigil expressing solidarity with victims of the Orlando shooting.
“We can’t, as a University, just ignore that this happened,” said event organizer Joshua Goddard ’18. “We wanted to reach out, but we didn’t realize how badly people wanted to reach back out to us.”
The vigil — organized by five Cornell students and Brian Patchcoski, the director of Cornell’s LBGTQ+ Resource Center — included an open dialogue where attendees could speak about their reactions to the attack, followed by a performance by the glee club and chorus members.
The ceremony concluded with the lighting of 49 candles, one for each victim killed in the country’s most devastating mass shooting to date.
Many of the event’s organizers, including Biagio DiSalvo ’14 M.A. ’16, said they gathered in part to honor the attack’s victims before the shooting became overly politicized.
“You can’t really separate this from political change and social change, but we wanted this to be especially for remembering the victims,” DiSalvo said. “Obviously we need change, but we wanted to focus on their lives rather than anything else.”
Goddard agreed, adding that the vigil was a means for the Cornell community to together “process what had happened.”
“I think the one most frustrating thing I’ve seen is how everyone has glossed over the fact that 49 young people have died,” Goddard said. “They are trying to turn it all into a political debate and are ignoring the fact that there are 49 queer people and straight allies that are dead. I wanted to just take a moment or take a single night and just appreciate them.”
The vigil also allowed Cornellians to begin healing after a hateful act, according to organizer Elizabeth Cavic ’18.
“Especially for members of the LGBTQ community, it’s really important to have a healing space and a place where people can talk openly about how they are coping with such a tragic incident, especially without it being a political or divisive event,” Cavic said. “It was important to me that this vigil was strictly a healing space.”
The event’s mood was marked by “a mixture of sorrow and confusion,” but attendees also expressed a hopeful “desire to see things change,” according to Sarah Wright ’18, another organizer.
“We care today, we cared yesterday, we’re going to care tomorrow,” Wright said. “We’re always going to care, and it’s always going to be something that matters to us. Even if it’s something small, like lighting some candles, or just sitting in a circle talking, it’s something for people to come to, for people to see, for other people to read about.”
Speaking of the shooting, Goddard said he felt the attack “awakened” him to the danger to the LGBTQ community still faces in the United States.
“Even where we are and how much progress we’ve made, we’re still at that point where we really need to care for each other and watch out for each other,” he said. “This [shooting] ended 49 lives, but it affected millions of lives.”
Attendee Morgan Shelton ’17 expressed her appreciation for the vigil’s atmosphere of thoughtfulness and compassion.
“When I heard about the Pulse event, it was in the evening, and it struck me,” Shelton said. “I’m just glad that something like this was put together, especially on such short notice with not a lot of people here. This looks like it was done with a lot of care, a lot of respect, a lot of thought.”
Shelton added that she believes the Pulse shooting should encourage people from around the world to help “compassion to win over hate.”
“We cannot allow ourselves to become consumed by our confusion, our sadness, our sorrow in this event,” she said. “It’s an event to embolden us … to do better to people who are LGBT+, to anyone we know.”
The Employee Assembly also released a statement via social media Friday, expressing solidarity with the victims of the shooting and encouraging Cornellians to attend the vigil.
“The tragedy of the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub has highlighted the bias faced by the LGBTQ+, Latinx and Muslim communities,” the statement said. “Cornell prides itself on being an institution … where our diverse workforce can be part of an engaging and inclusive environment.”
The Ithaca community will also host an Ithaca is Love event on June 30 in response to the Orlando shooting, according to DiSalvo.