What happened to our campus on November 4 changed the way we saw the school we attended. It made us hurt, confused, angry, and scared. But it also allowed us to see what makes our school strong, and in that, we began to see the ability to heal. And on November 6, we began to take those first, few important steps towards healing. We began to reclaim our campus from the tragedy.
When I first arrived on campus Friday morning, the school felt empty. It was like all the energy had disappeared and was left with an eerie silence. However, that all changed once I got to the bridge. In all honesty, I dreaded crossing that bridge. How could I walk across it when I knew exactly what happened on it? As these thoughts of fear swirled in my mind, I was greeted by this sign.
In that moment, I realized that I wasn't alone. None of us are. We have each other to help us through this hard time. As I crossed the bridge, I saw students handing out breakfast and providing words of encouragement. I saw students walking with other students who felt anxious or nervous, making sure they felt secure during the walk. I saw students providing warm smiles and hugs. I saw a community. A community that encompasses the words that soon became our call to action. The words 'Bobcat Strong.'
But what does it mean to be Bobcat Strong? Bobcat Strong is the ability to stand tall in adversity. Bobcat Strong is the teachers and students who attended class, despite what had occurred, and tried to create some kind of normalcy.
Bobcat Strong is the teachers and grad students who, despite what happened, were able to reclaim the very room where the incident occurred, making it a place of discussion and growth once more.
Bobcat Strong is the students who offered up their services and kindness, making sure that there wasn't a moment where students felt unprotected or unloved.
Bobcat Strong is the unity of ASUCM and ASUCM President Domonique Jones, Chancellor Dorthy Leland, and Internal Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Charles Nies, who were able to work together to create a candlelight vigil, get t-shirts and buttons made under such short notice, and get the students to mobilize and unite in order to reclaim our bridge.
Bobcat Strong is the ability of the students to remain untied in a situation that could easily have broken us. It is the ability to remember that we are a university, but also a family, united not only by our education but by the experiences that we all have shared.
Bobcat Strong is the ability to show compassion, despite all that has occurred. To remember that any loss is still worth mourning.
Bobcat Strong, as Charlies Nies said in his speech at the candlelight vigil on Friday, is, "at its core, community. But not just any community, but one willing to stand up with compassion, conviction, and hope." What I have seen in the days since November 4 has changed the way I see our school. It has changed the way I see the people I know. But not in a way that distances me from them. It has taught me that the students at UC Merced have the ability to create unity and bring about change. We are a community of thinkers and a community of open hearts. We are a community that is, now and forever, Bobcat Strong.