Tragedy reminds us to embrace our roots

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Stabbing reported at Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburgh, Pa: I was on the treadmill when I got the CNN alert a year ago from last Thursday. I nearly fell off the machine.

The last thing that I was expecting on that beautiful spring morning was to wake up to the chance that my brother and sister, my cousins, my friends, and my teachers had been put into danger. It was the day before Carnival, and a school stabbing was not on the schedule, or even within the realm of possibility in my small, socio-economically stable high school. Absurdly, I wondered if I would have to skip Carnival.

As I struggled to understand what was happening, to get in contact with everyone I know and care about, to go about my last day of classes, to keep up with Twitter and breaking news, I felt like more of a stranger than I ever have on Carnegie Mellon’s campus.

Sitting in class, I couldn’t believe that there was any place for normalcy in that day. How could all of these people sit around discussing the rhetoric of a narrative structure while I waited to hear how many people had been seriously injured in my hometown?

My classmates didn’t even know the stabbing had happened, let alone that it had happened in the hallway where my sister had her first class. I had my laptop open, refreshing the CNN article with live video feed, aware that the grad student sitting next to me was watching out of boredom. It felt like I was in a slow-moving, high-tension episode of a soap opera.

Few people from my high school came to Carnegie Mellon with me, and no graduating class since I started has sent more than two or three students here. I was excited to seek out my place on a campus where nobody knew me, where I could reinvent myself, where I could blend in with the crowd.

But walking to class that day, I felt totally alone and desperate to be with someone, anyone, from Franklin Regional. I texted my friends from high school who were all together at Penn State, watching the news together in pockets across campus, with anyone they could find from Franklin.

That was what I needed. I needed somebody to recognize what I was going through — because nobody knew, just from looking at me, that my hometown was in chaos and that my friends and family had witnessed a horrific act of violence. I was in a bubble, and only a few people knew why or how to break through it.

When I did finally run into one of those random people who came from Murrysville, it was as if I was meeting the first person who spoke the same language that I did that day. Without any introduction or fanfare, we exchanged information: who we knew was okay, who we had heard wasn’t, and who had done this terrible thing.

Standing outside Warner Hall, we hugged, then parted ways. It was a three-minute conversation, but it was my lifeline: It gave me that link, that connection to Murrysville and my school, that I needed.

Since that horrible day, a lot has changed. Charges have been filed, the last victim was released from the hospital, a class has graduated, and another year has started fresh. There are still obvious scars in the community, but Murrysville has picked up and kept going, everyone coming together and supporting each other in the process.

I’ve changed, too. Not just in the obvious, “hug your loved ones more often” way, but in the way that I root myself. I love Carnegie Mellon, and I love my community here. But on that day, I realized just how important it is to maintain a sense of belonging to your home, whether that be a classroom, a sports field, a store, a bagel deli, or your family.

Appreciating your roots isn’t just about loving your hometown — because many of us don’t. Rather, it’s about having a place to call your hometown. A place to look back to, and to fall back into, and to ground yourself in. It’s healthy to move forward in life, but there will be no real growth if you don’t have a stable foundation from which to grow.

It took a tragedy to draw me back into a sense of belonging in my hometown, my high school, and, on some level, my family, and that terrifies me. When I went home for my brother’s graduation, I stood proudly with my family as we sung the tuneless Alma Mater loudly and off-key. I knew then as I know now that I lucked out with Murrysville, with Franklin Regional, and above all, with my family.