On a rainy night, the breezeway was illuminated with bright candles as more than 100 members of the university stood united and gathered to pay their respects to the lives lost during the tragic events that recently occurred in Paris and Beirut.
The vigil, organized by the Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO) and the International Student and Scholars Services (ISSS), included speakers with personal ties to the cities that were attacked by terrorists last week such as the counsul general of France in Miami Philippe Létrilliart. Channeling the cries of the fallen on a solemn night, they spoke about the horrific injustice that their compatriots suffered.
“This vigil is meant to unite the University of Miami community [and have them] come together and send peace and love around the world,” said Stephanie Foster, the assistant director of ISSS. “This event is important to remember the innocent victims and to find some light in the darkness.”
The atmosphere was gloomy but resolute. Speakers and students were sad, but refused to be driven by fear. With soft music playing in the background and the flags of France and Lebanon waving, the message was clear: members of University of Miami community condemned the recent acts of terrorism.
Patricia Whitely, the vice president of Student Affairs, lamented the memory of the candlelight vigil held after the attacks of Sept. 11 and offered condolences to the university’s diverse community of students from more than 110 different countries.
“We are there for you,” Whitely said. “We will hold each other close and pray that this incredible oppression leaves from our world quickly.”
Melyssa Haffaf, a graduate student studying French at the university and an assistant to the director of the French undergraduate program, gave a powerful speech on behalf of the French students on campus.
“Our loved ones are going through incredibly distressing times,” Haffaf said. “It is easy to feel lost and isolated, but we stand united against this senseless violence. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world.’”
Terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibly for the bloodshed that happened last week. They killed more than 130 people in Paris through simultaneous attacks, more than 43 people in southern Beirut and 224 people on a Russian charter plane last month.
Their act of violence was meant to instill fear, yet according to Chelsea-Jane Arcalas, public relations chair of COISO, the event was for the students to stand defiantly and refuse to allow ISIL tactics scare them.
“In times like [these] of terror and evil, I think it’s important for us as a community to do all that we can to show that we are here for each other and that we are here for those who have been affected,” Arcalas said. “Instead of being scared, we should be vigilant. We should stand with strength and hope rather than be driven by fear. This event here shows that we stand together and we must look out for each other.”
The world has stood united against the dreadful events. Facebook added a feature that allowed users to add a filter of the French flag to their profile pictures; landmarks around the world displayed the French colors; athletic events have held moments of silent reflection and in Tuesday’s soccer game between the men’s national teams of France and England, many of the 90,000 fans from both sides in Wembley Stadium in London sang “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.
Lebanese student Daniel Moubayed spoke on behalf of those who suffered in Beirut.
“As a Lebanese American and a student here, it shows now more than ever that we have to show our support and cooperation for those affected by trouble around the world,” Moubayed said. “Humanity and compassion is what is needed to be expressed so that we can stand in solidarity with those in Beruit, in Paris and all over the world.”
“It was as if the skies themselves were crying over the loss of lives,” COISO Secretary Christina Stamatiou said. “It is important for us as students of Miami to understand the severity of what is going on and to unite as a campus community to show that we care. And we are hurting too.”