Queen Elizabeth Begins Royal Visit by Honoring Virginia Tech Students

The Queen and Prince Philip Arriving in Richmond, Virginia

The Queen Addressing the Virginia General Assembly: Virginia State Capitol Building

Queen Elizabeth Reviews Virginia Tech Honor Guards During Virginia Visit

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Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Williamsburg, Virginia

The Queen and Prince Philip Visiting Jamestown, Virginia, in 1957

Queen Elizabeth II and her royal entourage touched down at Richmond International Airport on Thursday, beginning the Queen’s six-day visit to the United States.  The 81-year-old Queen then went by motorcade to the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, where she delivered a speech to a joint session of the General Assembly.

The Virginia Tech honor cadet force braved the rains to form a guard of honor outside of the Virginia Capitol.  While there should have been 12, one space was left empty in memory of Matthew La Porte, a member of the university’s cadet force who died in the shootings.

Although one of the main purposes of her visit to America is to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, she began her remarks in Richmond on a more somber note.  “As a state, and as a nation, you are still coming to terms with the dreadful events at Virginia Tech on the 16th of April,” she said.  Thirty-two people were slain in the mass shooting on campus by a gunman who then killed himself.  “My heart goes out to the students, families and friends who were killed and many others who have been affected, some of whom I shall be meeting shortly,” the Queen said.

After speaking to the Virginia General Assembly, Queen Elizabeth walked with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to a room off of the House chamber to meet with a group of Virginia Tech students and staff members.  When she entered, the students erupted into applause.  The queen stayed with the group for several minutes.  One student, who had been shot in the hand, presented the queen with a bracelet imbedded with 32 polished stones, one for each person slain, minus the shooter, in the school’s colors, maroon and orange.  Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger was also present for the meeting.

After appearing at the State Capitol, the Queen and Prince Philip traveled to Jamestown in order to participate in the commemorative ceremonies there.  Later, they traveled to Williamsburg, where they rode in an ornate, open-topped horse-drawn carriage through excited, admiring crowds on a four-block trip to the nearby Williamsburg Inn, where they spent the night.  Also along for the ride was Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, honorary chairperson of the Jamestown 2007 celebration.

Queen Elizabeth at The College of William and Mary

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On Friday, the Queen made an appearance at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.   At 2:45 in the afternoon, the Queen came out onto the portico of the college’s historic Wren building and was greeted with thunderous applause from thousands of students.  William and Mary’s President Gene R. Nichol welcomed her, noting the college’s historic ties with England.  Set on a lush campus in Williamsburg, the college was born in 1693 when King William III and Queen Mary II granted it a royal charter.  “We are ancient by the standards on this side of the water, if not your own,” Nichol told the Queen.

Senior Class President Jessica A. Vance then rose and announced that the queen would receive an honorary degree from William and Mary.  “I ask you to join us in becoming an honorary member of the Class of 2007,” Vance said.  “For now, ma’am, will you please stand and join us in the singing of our — and now your — alma mater.”  And with that, several thousand students, faculty and guests filling the long grass courtyard stood and sang the alma mater.

At its conclusion, the queen clapped her white gloved hands politely.  Then, fulfilling a William and Mary tradition, the honorary graduate was offered the chance afforded all seniors on their last day of classes — to ring the Wren bell.  “I asked her if she wanted to do it,” 22-year-old Vance, who accompanied the queen to the bell, said later.  She said, no, I could do it.”

So Vance rang the bell, and the queen emerged on a second-floor balcony.  Leaning into a microphone overlooking the courtyard, Vance announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest member of the Class of 2007, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.”

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Thinking in Tongues

Audio: Tranquil of Pain


“Many years ago, whilst collecting material in Ethiopia for a novel, I met an Italian septuagenarian in the Eritrean port of Assab. Tio, “Uncle”, as everybody lovingly called him, declared himself an insabbiati. The term refers to people “caught in the sand”, like fish, and was coined for those Italians who, having participated in Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, chose to stay on after Italy’s defeat at the end of the Second World War.

Although he barely eked out a living – at the time of our meeting, he was working as a receptionist in what was then Assab’s only tourist hotel – Tio relished his deracination. He had been captivated by Ethiopia’s rich culture and the beauty of her many peoples, particularly the women.

Tio and I spent many euphoric days and nights in the company of his captivating entourage. During sober moments, he showed me his stamp collection and recounted how he had managed to procure, despite his impecunious situation, some very rare specimens, and how, at his death, being childless, he would bequeath the entire collection to a children’s charity. (Months later, in London, a prominent philatelist to whom I had brought a gift from Tio, informed me that Tio‘s collection of Ethiopian stamps was incontestably unique and worth a fortune.)

Most of the time, Tio and I talked about the caste – surely the largest in the world – to which we both belonged: the caste of “the other”: of exiles, refugees, immigrants, displaced people, outsiders, outcasts, strangers, untouchables – and, of course, artists and writers.

Tio kept offering the image of the insabbiati, those “caught in the sand”, as the perfect representation of this caste. He said we were creatures facing death with a much greater awareness of the frailty of life and thus with an enhanced compulsion to survive; creatures that could not – or did not get the chance to – live in their native matrix and, consequently, desperately sought to make a new life in unknown lands and under harsh conditions; creatures that often became fodder for the people in power in their new environments, thus providing the hosts with good nourishment.

Since then, the image of the insabbiati has helped me to struggle against the depression of the exilic condition, the harsh realities of exclusion, the longings for my native land, and the free-floating angst of feeling worthless because of the difficulties of integration and acceptance. “

Moris Farhi
All History is the History of Migration
Index on Censorship

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