When College Students Die

Virginia Tech alumnus returns and tells his story of life change in the midst of tragedy, 38 years ago

  • by Sarah Freyermuth

Nearly 38 years ago, as a politically active freshman at Virginia Tech, pastor Sandy Young was disturbed by painful images of students senselessly shot and killed on the campuses of Kent and Jackson State Universities.

Like many Virginia Tech students today, he wrestled with difficult questions in the midst of tragedy.

Then Sandy found himself in Burruss Hall, exactly like many students in 2007 heard Ravi Zacharias speak this October, listening to a well-known speaker talk about Jesus Christ.

And it changed his life.

Kent State Shootings

In May 1970, within less than two weeks, a total of 6 students were killed and over 20 were wounded when local authorities opened fire on groups of demonstrating students at Kent State and Jackson State.

If students like Sandy could be gunned down, couldn't the same happen to him?

"Seeing the images of students, bloodied in the street," Sandy says. "It affected everyone profusely."

Students around the country reacted in different ways. Many rioted. Sandy joined with others who were involved with more subversive activities.

"We thought we were going to bring in a new world order with true community and true peace. Then I realized that the problem was with the soul, not the political system."

The following fall, Andre Kole, Cru staff member and world-renowned illusionist, came to Virginia Tech.

"No one invited me," says Sandy. "I just walked in. He talked about things I had no knowledge about."

How the Change Began

Sandy left the event and, as a result, bought his first Bible.

After reading Ecclesiastes, his interest deepened in finding answers. He continued on and read through the Gospels.

Sandy knew instantly how he needed to respond. "I needed to do a 180 degree turn and come to Jesus."  That involved stopping drugs and other illegal activities.

Over the next 2 years, Sandy became involved with Cru. He led a small group and helped with the worship team. After graduation, he went to seminary.

Sandy Went Full-Circle

Today, as pastor of one of the churches hosting the Ravi Zacharias event, he speaks to a community still wrestling with the hard questions. He introduced Ravi on Wednesday night.

"It's like full circle for me. I get to stand before a community that has been traumatized by death and upheaval and say that, when I was disillusioned and devastated by events, Christ changed my life. The answers they are looking for are in Him."