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Four weeks after massacre, graduation at Virginia Tech


Washington : Four weeks after the bloody massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, nearly 5,000 students received their degrees in a solemn yet joyful ceremony that memorialised the 32 people killed by a student gunmen.

Retired US General John Abizaid, who was head of the US Central Command during the early years of the war in Iraq, Friday told the audience of 30,000 that the school had shown great character, steadfastness under pressure and compassion in dealing with the tragedy.

Abizaid, the guest speaker, compared the school's resilience and conduct in the "harsh spotlight" of publicity to the "tenacity and courage" of New Yorkers after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and the "confidence and calmness under intense pressure" of the 2005 British after the London subway terrorist attacks.

"Adversity has a way of challenging us sooner or later," he said. "How we bear adversity's seemingly insurmountable challenges marks how others will judge us and how we judge ourselves."

University President Charles Steger, who weathered criticism for the school's failure to alert students before a second round of shooting, read a letter from US President George W. Bush to the graduates.

"You have reminded people throughout the country and around the world that the true strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of its citizens," he wrote.

The 27 students who died on April 16 received honorary degrees given to their families during the ceremonies, and were symbolically accepted into the family of the school's 200,000 alumnae. The names of the students, along with the professors who died, were read out.

The family of Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English student from South Korea who opened fire in a dorm room and classrooms on April 16, did not receive a diploma. The killings were the worst massacre by a single shooter in US history.