The random and senseless killing of Justin Valdez this last week left SF State and its extended community of family and friends shaken. Too often we are bombarded by local news of motiveless and unnecessary murders, young lives being cut short and the heartbreak of losing a loved one.
We are left confused, devastated and angry at the lack of reason as to why Valdez was killed. The loss of a fellow student especially hits close to home, as many of us relate to Valdez’s ambition to gain a higher education and build the foundation to a better life.
Losses like this demoralize and instill unnecessary fear. Many of us use the same public transit as Valdez to get to and from school. Some walk through the same neighborhoods. And many of us can relate to moving far away from home to experience college.
But we cannot become fearful because of this, nor hardened or cynical. Doing so would upset the optimism, ambition, promise and fearlessness Valdez’s life represents. By paying attention to the life of Valdez, the good example he set and the warm response of our community, we can uproot the seeds of despair that so easily plant themselves in our consciousness in times of such a heinous act.
An “accomplished swimmer” and president of his high school’s environmental club, Valdez is remembered by his peers as someone who pursued his passions. CBS Los Angeles reported that Valdez was even voted at one point, “Most Likely To Change the World.” His efforts to establish a recycling program at his high school demonstrated his passion for creating a better world.
The outpouring of support and empathy for Justin Valdez’s friends and family epitomizes the best of our society: at last Thursday’s vigil, through social media and the public donations to assist the family with funeral expenses. These numerous testaments to the positive nature of people drive home the fact that despite the tragedies of this world, there will always be myriads of people ready to help.
The District Attorney’s Office of San Francisco is still arraigning Nikhom Thephakaysone, Valdez’s alleged shooter. We eagerly await answers. Perhaps that is what SF State, friends and family need for closure and peace.
Regardless of final judgements and details from last Thursday night, we should not let the attribution of blame and guilt consume us. In the very end, our ability to learn from the best of Valdez will serve his goals for a better world more than any negativity ever could.
It’s in tragedies like this, though horrible in nature, we should remember how valuable our siblings, parents, children, friends and family are. All of us encounter sorrow on varying levels in our lives. Ultimately, it’s from coming closer to our loved ones that we cement connections that make us stronger than if we were alone. Building on that positivity, even in the depths of dark times, will foster more good than any mindless act will ever accomplish.