Hundreds Attend Giffords SC '93 Vigil

Over 300 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered on the Scripps College Bowling Green Tuesday evening for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of last week's shooting in Tuscon that killed six and wounded many, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Scripps alumnae from 1993.

The vigil, dubbed a 'circle of hope' by Giffords' alma mater, included a solemn violin performance, speeches by Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga and Scripps Associated Students President India Mullady '11, and selected readings of student and alumnae letters to Gabby. Respecting Giffords' Jewish faith and heritage, Claremont University Consortium chaplain Rabbi Daveen Litwin led attendees in a Hebrew hymn.

"It's clearly been a tragedy for the country,"  Bettison-Varga told the Forum. "I don't think we can really make sense of this."

The event focused on support, healing and prayer, and contained no allusion to media accusations of  the shooter's political motives or growing divisiveness. But according to Mullady and Bettison-Varga, politics has not corrupted discussion of the event at Scripps.

"Here the discussion has been strictly about the Congresswoman and the other victims," Mullady said. "There might be separate talks about other things that have been going on, but that's definitely not the emphasis."

President Bettison-Varga agreed that concern for Gabby and other victims has thus far transcended other debates.

"It's not about politics," she said. "It's about this woman doing something in the service of the country."

In keeping with this spirit of not only college but national unity, Mullady focused on the broader impact of the shooting in her speech. "For me a focus was not just making it about Gabby Giffords," she told the Forum. "It's so rare that [the news mentions] the six names of all six people who died.   It's important to realize the shooting was directed at Gabby Giffords but it had this resounding impact on the community, on the people whose lives were lost and the other people who were wounded.

Since the incident took place over Claremont's winter break, the community initially connected on the web. Over one hundred "Letters for Gabby"'  have been submitted to Scripps in the wake of the incident.

"There's been a pretty big outpouring online," said Mullady. "People are thinking about it and talking about it."

Former Scripps President Fritz Weis CM'65 attended the service. Weis served as interim president at Scripps from 2007 until July 2009, and attended her commencement address to the college's class of 2009.

The former president remembers a vibrant commencement speech that year, which many students thanked her for afterward. "Clearly she was very inspirational for all our students," Weis told the Forum. "We were especially pleased to have her as our commencement speaker that year."

"You could tell that she was still integrated to the Scripps community just by the way she addressed the students," said Mullady, who also heard Giffords speak in 2009.

Bettison-Varga added: "We appreciate the support from everybody in the community, not just the Scripps community, but all of the Claremont Colleges. We've had words of support from everybody, and it means a lot."