She never knew me, but boy did I know her. We walked like zombies for the first week after she went missing. Everyone’s heads were facing down as their minds wandered in confusion and fear. How could this have happened, and what actually did happen? She was all around me, constantly creeping into my thoughts. As I walked around Grounds, faces morphed into hers and suddenly, everyone had freckles and light brown hair. Hannah Graham was everywhere.

A fellow Second year at the University of Virginia, Hannah Graham, went missing in early September. Days after she disappeared, the missing persons case became national and international news. After a month of gathering clues and building upon the timeline of the night she went missing, remains of what appear to be Graham were found ten miles from where she was last seen.

It is so difficult to say out loud or even type what happened to her. Calling Hannah by her last name seemingly numbs the traumatic feelings of a young girl’s death. But “Graham” didn’t go missing, Hannah did. Hannah, a naïve and innocent girl, happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Only afterwards did she become “Graham.” Hannah was a student who returned to UVA just like I did after the summer. She ate at the same dining halls, studied at the same libraries, and walked the same route to classes that I did, and now she’s gone.

The University of Virginia, known for its high standards for trust and respect, is a safe school. However, it’s difficult as a college student to remember that beyond our bubble of trust is a vast world full of good and evil. It’s not Hannah’s fault that she went missing. It’s not her friends’ or the school’s fault either. We can’t point the blame on anyone but the predator because without him, there is no case, no disappearance, and no loss of life. Moving forward, we can only do our best to prevent any similar instances from occurring in the future.

It is my privileged responsibility to lend advice to first generation college students as they plan to embark on a new journey of their lives. I wanted to take a moment to stray away from my usual whimsical advice to discuss a more serious note about safety precautions. When you get to college, everything moves so quickly and the opportunities are overwhelming. It is easy to get caught up in the fast-paced whirlwind of college, but it is important to zoom out, slow down, and make yourself more aware of your surroundings. After all, predators target those who appear to be in a state of weakness so making the effort to seem more aware goes a long way. Another important precaution to take is to walk with a friend when it’s late at night. I know that the importance of the “buddy system” is learned at a young age and that it seems to lose its important as children get older, but it is very crucial to decreasing your chances of harm at any age because predators are not going to take their chances with a group of people. The last piece of advice I can give about safety is to keep an open line of communication between friends about your whereabouts. Texting has made this very easy. Even if you are not the one walking at night, be sure to make your friend text you when they get home safely so that you can sleep better at night.

Even though we can’t bring Hannah back, she remains very present at the University. If her story convinces one more person to walk a friend home, send a text about their whereabouts, or look over their shoulder one extra time, Hannah’s spirit lives on as a protector of the students at UVA, students from other universities, and high school students from around the world.

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