Liam Rappleye is a first-year English major from Grand Haven.
The smell of spray paint makes me dizzy. My heart hurts. I might throw up.
Just a few days ago, there was a school shooting at Oxford High School, two hours away from Albion. I’m sure most of my peers feel the same way: these shootings don’t shock us in the way they used to. That’s not to say that I don’t recognize these events as important, I most certainly do, I just can’t help but look at the headlines, sigh and move on.
This one was different.
I found out about the shooting in Oxford when my roommate, an Oxford High School graduate, posted it on his Instagram story. The photo, a seemingly thoughtless picture of his shoes, was captioned: “Condolences to everyone at Oxford.” After a cursory Google search and a few heartbreaking headlines, I knew what had happened. I felt an empty pit in my gut that I hadn’t felt in years. I sighed, but this was a headline that I couldn’t turn away from.
My roommate is John Valvo, a first-year student at Albion who played football at Oxford. He is not only my roommate, but he’s my best friend on campus. He’s always joking, smiling and carrying himself with a sunny disposition. With a head of hair dyed half blonde and half brown, eccentric clothing and a contagious laugh, it’s hard to not recognize that Valvo is a happy kid.
The shooting was unspoken at first. I just noticed my once-cheerful roommate grow quiet. The kid I knew was gone; Valvo rarely left the room.
Eventually, Valvo opened up about the shooting. He found out about the tragedy through a text from his mom, who lives in Oxford. The text, which reads, “Shooter at Oxford… This is madness. Emergency vehicles are flying past the house,” left Valvo feeling shocked. Within five minutes he texted everyone he knew in the building, reaching out to see if they were safe. Later, his mother texted him again: “Football player named Tate was shot. Tate lost a lot of blood…”
Tate Myre, 16, was a running back and linebacker for Oxford High School. He had plans to play collegiate football. He passed in a patrol car on the way to the hospital. Valvo played football with Myre for two years and is friends with other victims who are currently hospitalized. Valvo told me he still feels in shock.
“Every time I see a new post on Instagram or a new news article about it, I can’t believe that this is my school,” Valvo said. “Being so far away from it, you kinda see how the world goes on. Besides Oxford, everyone else is still continuing like nothing happened.”
Oxford is 115 miles away from Albion, yet the shots that were fired still echo here. For Valvo, and now for me, this was not just another headline to read and dismiss.
It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of school shootings. While walking back to our dorm I sulked past the rock and felt a brief moment of relief. We cannot force legislative change. We seemingly cannot move in a meaningful way to prevent this from happening again. However, I felt that as Albion students we could use the Rock, a long time Albion tradition, to express ourselves for this moment.
With cans of blue, yellow and black paint, we circled the rock, painting Oxford’s logo and a heart in yellow. The 40 degree weather numbed our fingers and cramped our forearms. As we finished up our spray paint memorial, I handed Valvo the black spray paint.
“You wanna paint Tate’s name,” I said.
He sprayed Myre’s name, along with the four other victims who lost their lives: Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin and Justin Shilling. We hugged, and he checked the time.
“I’m late for class,” Valvo said, and then he laughed that contagious laugh.
Thanks for featuring my work.