Rain and lightning delayed but could not stop a vigil Tuesday night where the UCF community honored the victims of the Pulse shooting, vowing to conquer hate with love.
Gathered in the University of Central Florida Student Union, attendees listened as leaders from the university, the student body, the LGBTQ+ community and others tried to make sense of the tragedy. As they spoke, the university’s iconic Millican Hall administrative building on the other side of campus was for the first time lit with the colors of the rainbow.
“It’s important to remember we stand together as a city, as a country and as a world,” Student Government Association President Chris Clemente said. “We move forward with love….Tragedy does not define us. Tonight defines us.”
More than 1,000 people attended. Another 125,000 watched online via a Facebook Live stream that ultimately reached more than a million people.
It’s through this type of gathering that we show our strength and resilience, UCF President John C. Hitt said.
“This event underscores how being diverse and inclusive makes UCF a better place for all of us,” Hitt said. “To the many in our community and throughout the world who have offered support, I commend your outpouring of kindness, hope, and generosity. You show humanity that good will override evil.”
The UCF family braved ominous weather to attend the vigil organized by members of UCF’s LGBTQ+ community with support from UCF Social Justice and Advocacy. Just before it was to begin, UCF officials asked attendees to clear Memory Mall and take shelter as a thunderstorm moved closer. They moved into nearby academic buildings, and some in the Psychology Building began to sing together as they waited out the rain. During a break in the weather, the vigil moved into the Student Union, filling all four floors.
Amelia Lyons, an associate professor of history, said she attended with her husband and two young sons because the shooting affected her deeply.
“I am here because I am part of Orlando and the UCF community, and our community has been shaken to the core by what happened just blocks from home,” Lyons said.
At the vigil, she found solace in the stream of people climbing the stairs and lining the upper floor railings overlooking the atrium. It made her proud and reminded her of the beauty of infinity.
UCF Pride Faculty and Staff Association board member Carrie Moran told people how to fight hate.
“The only way to do it is through love,” she said, calling on everyone to hug those nearest them.
Tasnim Mellouli of the UCF Muslim Student Association, sitting with friends wearing hijabs and holding daisies, said their faith brought them to the vigil.
“We have to be here. Our religion says no one life is more valuable than another. In fact, I’d say it’s our duty to be here and support our community,” said Mellouli, who said her fellow Knights have treated her and her friends with “so much love” since the shooting.
There was a reading of the names of the 49 victims, including the two members of the UCF family: student Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and alumnus Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32. As the names were read, hundreds of bright lights from mobile phones circled the union like fireflies.