© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

My heart aches.  Of course I mourn the passing of the thirty-two Virginia Polytechnic University students, as do we all throughout the globe.  Nevertheless, I cannot forget how my heart hurts for the thirty-third victim, the one the media never seems to counts among those killed, Seung-Hui Cho.  On April 16, 2007 thirty-three lovable and fragile individuals passed.

Seung-Hui Cho, as he called himself, was a young man locked in Hades for decades.  His death began long before the day of infamy.  He longed for comfort and company.  All he received was chiding.  Even in death, Seung-Hui Cho is scorned.  I am forlorn.

From the first, there were labels.  Many said he was “Chinese”; they would then add their political concerns for China.  Then he was, and today he is still frequently referred to as a Korean National.  Calls for restraints on immigration are common.  Of course, in the minds of many American’s anyone that is not white is not right, and definitely, if they are not born in this country, they are aliens.  

Among some, there is ample discussion for the name of this now notable student, the “shooter.”  Many believe his ethnicity is more important than the person.

The Asian version of the name – Cho Seung-Hui – appeared to be more widespread, in part because of its use in the ubiquitous wire stories from Reuters and the AP. As a result, some Korean-Americans felt media groups were playing up Cho’s foreign-ness, according to the Asian American Journalists Association, which advised reporters to use the American order.

Thankfully, and I do note the use of the name is Americanized, as family members and Cho himself seem to prefer, National Public Radio retorted as I had when speaking to friends and family.  This young and deeply disturbed man was, is an American.

How American was Seung-Hui Cho? Despite being a South Korean national living in America, his upbringing, and his problems, were distinctly American.

The system or lack of social services in the United states let this man slide through many a crack.

Seung-Hui Cho and his parents were hoping to find streets paved in gold in America.  Unfortunately, they discovered what many of us do, life is good if you are among the fertile few.  Actually, life, even for the affluent can be a struggle.  Life is life.  People yell; they scream, they damn, and they slam.  Consider the woes of an eleven year old.  The daughter of Alec Baldwin may have been born into money; nevertheless, she receives the wrath of a supposedly loving father.  She is verbally slammed and damned.

Imagine how loved this little girl must feel after being told she is a “thoughtless little pig,”  Her Dad, actor Baldwin, threatens to set here straight during their meeting the following day.  Were I she I would want to run for my life.  Seung-Hui Cho, the wounded must have often felt a need to escape.  Perhaps, his sullen manner was his means for flight.  Seung-Hui Cho said in an 1,800-word rambling . . .

‘I didn’t have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run.’

Cho lived in shadows, deep and dark.  He attended classes at a prestigious University.  He was a scholar, a writer.  Yet, he was shunned.  His dialect was odd, mumbled, and his words were difficult to discern.  This academic was nearing graduation, a scary proposition all in itself.  He did not feel excepted in the world.  From what we know of his history, he never had.

Some say he was paranoid, obsessively anxious, or unreasonably suspicious.  Perhaps he was.  Many of us feel family and friends expect much of us and from us.  Often we compare ourselves to others and we believe we fall short.  Acceptance into an esteemed University is glorious.  Maintaining good grades is meaningful.  Yet, any of us may wonder, is that good enough.  Perchance when our sibling excels, we are far more aware of our failings.

Though Monday’s shootings at Virginia Tech had already cast a shadow over campus, the news yesterday morning that the gunman’s older sister is a recent Princeton alumna brought the tragedy even closer to home.

Sun-Kyung Cho ’04 was an economics major who interned at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok during the summer before her senior year and wrote briefly for The Daily Princetonian. She now works as a “State Department contractor,” The Washington Post reported yesterday, and was listed on Princeton’s alumni directory as living in Centreville, Va., with her parents.

The parents of these fine children are so devastated, they are residing in a community hospital.  They feel deeply pained by their son’s circumstance.  The mother and father meant no harm; they as all parents hoped to provide the best for their children.  In an interview with Seung-Hui Cho’s grandfather, the elder stated

“Seung-hui troubled his parents when he was young because he wouldn’t talk, but he was well-behaved,” said the man, who asked to be called Mr Kim, in interviews with two Korean newspapers.

“I don’t know how I can compensate for the responsibility for raising my kids improperly. I don’t know how he could do this when his parents went to a country far away and worked hard.”

They are troubled and think themselves responsible.  Perhaps, America has let the Cho family down.  They expected so much, all Americans do.  However, little is received. The rewards are few.

In an editorial, the Hankyoreh newspaper wrote today that Cho’s case illustrated a problem faced by many South Korean immigrants in the US, where parents are too busy at work to take care of their children.??

“It is the reality of our immigrants that parents are so busy making a living that it’s not easy for them to have dialogue with young children,” the newspaper wrote.??

“We should think about whether our society or our (Korean) community abroad has been negligent in preventing conditions that could lead to such an aberration,” it said.

Many in the Korean community think the problem lies in the life of an émigré; however, even native born Americans struggle to make a decent wage or create a comfortable caring environment for their children.

Most neighbours could barely recall talking to the couple. “They’re very quiet, very nice people. They worked very hard for him. It’s very sad,” their next-door neighbour, Abdul Shash, told the Associated Press.

“They valued education, just like any other parents in this country, and they worked sometimes 12, 13 hours a day to send a daughter to Princeton and to send their son to Virginia Tech,” said Jeff Ahn, president of the League of Korean Americans in Virginia.

Most of us think our lack of personal success is our fault.  When our offspring struggle or hurt another, we are pained.  A  Grandfather feels responsible for his own progeny and the product of their love.  Mister Kim the eldest representative of a kind and caring family reflects,

“How could he have done such a thing if he had any sympathy for his parents, who went all the way to another country because they couldn’t make ends meet and endured hardships,” Cho’s maternal grandfather, identified only by his last name Kim, was quoted as saying.

As a child Seung-Hui Cho was ridiculed and bullyed.  As an adult he hid; he hoped to avoid the taunts and teasing.

Former classmates recalled Cho being taunted over his speech difficulties.

He almost never opened his mouth and would ignore attempts to strike up a conversation, said Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech senior who graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., with Cho in 2003.

When Cho read out loud in class, other students laughed at his strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.

In a video Cho mailed to NBC in the middle of his rampage at Virginia Tech, the 23-year-old portrayed himself as persecuted and rants about rich kids.

One professor saw his angst.  She read the words of a tormented soul.  She was frightened.  Initially, she embraced the long-suffering spirit of this neglected man.

Lucinda Roy, a co-director of the creative writing program at Virginia Tech, taught Cho in a poetry class in fall of 2005 and later worked with him one-on-one after she became concerned about his behavior and themes in his writings.

The professor pondered.  She realized Seung-Hui Cho was without friends.  He did not know how to relate; perhaps, he had never had the chance.

Roy told ABC News that Cho seemed “extraordinarily lonely–the loneliest person I have ever met in my life.” She said he wore sunglasses indoors, with a cap pulled low over his eyes.

In his writings he was lashing out as all wounded animals do.  His actions amplified the distance he felt and thus, created.

He whispered, took 20 seconds to answer questions, and took cellphone pictures of her in class. Roy said she was concerned for her safety when she met with him.

Professor Roy became fearful.  Sadly, we all are when we do not understand.  Often, when any of us think we are threatened, instead of continuing to assist, we withdraw from what causes us great apprehension.  We avoid knowing what we recognize and prepare to protect ourselves further.  Thus, we as a society discuss increasing security in our schools rather than raising the standards and funding for mental health.

Such is the situation, the shortsightedness.  It is all so sad to me.  We separate ourselves from each other.  We create stress.  Then instead of coming together we try harder to take control.  Emotions cannot be regulated; in truth, we cannot mandate behaviors.  If we are to be truly safe, we must ensure that every individual feels cared for to his or her core.  I believe we must interact, not react.

I beseech us all; I ask Americans, émigrés, and individuals in every corner of the globe, do not hold your children tighter, lock them up in buildings where there is little genuine affection.  Love them; they need to feel safe and secure and only your authentic fondness can fill their hearts and provide stability.  Pay attention to the progeny.  They are our future.  

Do not apply pressure as a tourniquet might.  Suffocating a wound appears to stop the flow.  However, scars form from within.  What is not released, calmly and with care, in the moment builds up.  Feelings must be felt, expressed, and received gently with concern.  

Please let your loved ones be and breathe.  Provide them with the freedom to speak and to feel.  Be with those that are special to you. Listen to their concerns.  Allow them to lean on your shoulder when they wish to.  Tenderly teach autonomy.  Do not dismiss the essence of interdependence as well.  May we honor our children wholly in our homes and schools.

Please let us not place imprison our pupils, our progeny.  Provide for them in meaningful ways.  Trust them to grow and nurture them on their unique path.

Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand
. . . what he learns and the way he understands it.

~ Soren Kierkegaard

Everything depends upon the quality of experience . . . just as no man lives or dies to himself, so no experience lives and dies to itself. ?Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience.? The central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experience that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.
~ John Dewey [American Philosopher, Psychologist, Educational Reformer]

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
~ R. M. Hutchins [American Educator, Author, The University of Utopia and The Learning Society]

Seung-Hui Cho My Sadness for Yours . . .

  • In Virginia, a Day of Mourning Associated Press. The New York times. April 20, 2007
  • pdf In Virginia, a Day of Mourning Associated Press. The New York times. April 20, 2007
  • Cho Seung-Hui or Seung-Hui Cho? By Michelle Tsai.  Slate. Thursday, April 19, 2007
  • Weighing Cho’s Heritage and Identity, By Robert Siegal.  All Things Considered. April 18, 2007
  • Alec Baldwin’s Threatening Message to Daughter. By TMZ. April 19th 2007
  • Tragedy at Virginia Tech, Gunman kills 32 in dorm and classrooms before taking own life. By Jonathan Zebrowski.  Princetonian. April 17, 2007
  • Virginia Shooter Spoke Little As Child, By Bo-Mi Lim, Associated Press.  SFGate. Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Betsy L. Angert

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