We Are All Hokies


We Are All Hokies


by Ruben Maqueda

Like every other American, I was shocked and horrified by the shootings that took place at Virginia Tech. I thought of the students and so many young, promising lives suddenly cut short. I thought of the professors who sacrificed their lives for their students, and whose vast knowledge was now lost to the world. I thought of the survivors and the scars, physical and emotional, that they would bear after experiencing such brutality. I thought of the friends and families of the victims. Having lost my own mother eight months earlier, I knew the painful road that lay before them and how this one day would change them forever. This shrine is a tribute to the victims, 27 students and 5 professors, who lost their lives on April 16, 2007.

In the Mexican culture, Day of the Dead is a very important holiday. It is believed that on the night of November 1, the spirits of the dead return to earth to visit their loved ones. Families go to the cemeteries on that day to honor their dead by scrubbing headstones, cleaning the graves, and decorating the gravesite with candles, flowers, photos, sugar skulls and offerings of food and drink. I wanted to incorporate some traditional Day of the Dead elements, while adding elements of college life and some unique touches of my own.

I was very touched when I learned that the university was posthumously awarding degrees to all of the students killed in the shootings. What you see here is, in effect, a graduation ceremony. Sugar skulls bearing the name of the deceased are a very traditional element of the Day of the Dead. The skulls, decorated with brightly colored frosting, foil, and other items, are placed on the shrine. There are 32 papier-mache skulls adorning the shrine, with the larger skulls honoring the professors. Each skull bears the name of one of the victims, and each skull wears a graduation cap with the Virginia Tech logo over the tassel. In addition to a skull, there is a candle for each victim.

The box above the professors houses an image of George Washington. I thought that since this is their first Day of the Dead, the spirits of the victims might need a guide to show them the way back. Since George Washington has been dead for over 200 years, I thought he would be familiar with the process and would make a fitting guide for them because of his strong association with Virginia. The background of the shrine has the twelve constellations of the zodiac painted on it to represent not only the birthdays of the victims, but the passage of time as well.

There are books, labeled with the subjects taught by the professors, which represent their lives, their knowledge, their education, and their status as educators. On the sides of the shrine are 598 origami cranes. If the ages of the students are added up, it totals 598, so each crane represents a year of life.

Working on this shrine was a labor of love for me. I made the skulls out of cardboard boxes, and I discovered that the strongest and best cardboard came from the core. If you look at a cross-section of a piece of cardboard, the core is corrugated and that is what gives the cardboard, or the box as a whole, its strength. What happened at Virginia Tech was devastating, and we will never be the same. What we have to do is find our core and use that strength to heal.


Ruben Maqueda




Brent Jesiek


Quinn Densley (qsdensley@yahoo.com)




Ruben in front of VT Shrine 1.JPG


Ruben Maqueda, “We Are All Hokies,” The April 16 Archive, accessed August 18, 2017, http://april16archive.org/items/show/1656.