Both are land-grant universities with student bodies of around 25,000. Both are located in small towns that might not even exist without the schools. Both have nationally known engineering programs. Both deal with the shadows cast by "The University of..." in their states. Both have big-time athletics programs that are a major part of campus life and football programs that have been so close to winning national championships in recent years only to come up short for one reason or another.
For the past two days, it's been difficult to focus a lot on what's happening in the games college students play. Television news is depressing, but it's hard to stay from it.
It was early Monday morning when I saw the first news that there had been a shooting on the Virginia Tech campus. Two people had died in a dormitory. That was horrendous news in and of itself. We all like to think that students can go to school, at whatever level, and be safe.
But the bad news was just beginning. Word came of the shooting in Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus. And the news got steadily worse. By the time the day was over, 32 people were dead at the hands of one crazed and evil gunman.
It hit home to me in many ways. Even as the shooter was executing students at Virginia Tech, my son, a senior chemical engineering major at Auburn, was in his physical chemistry class. What could be done, I wondered, if such a lunatic had taken his gun into my son's classroom?
And I recognized the truth. Nothing.
If someone is evil enough and crazy enough to want to commit mass murder, and if that person is lucid enough to hide those intentions, there is truly little that can be done to stop him. Guns are readily available. There is no way on a university campus to make every entrance to every building secure.
In these often troubling times, violence is never far away. It's easy to tune it out when it's on the streets of a big city far away or on the other side of the world. It's not so easy when it involves people who are so much like you and your family.
Around the world, so many live with death every day. Even on the morning I write this, hundreds have died in Baghdad at the hands other crazed killers. Most were every bit as innocent as the students who died on the Virginia Tech campus. Their loved ones grieve just as deeply as the loved ones of American college students.
So what do we do? Are we suspicious of everybody? Do we make public places like universities and high schools armed camps? Is every person who is "different" viewed as a potential murderer?
Millions deal with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Hardly any become murderers as a result.
In the years since 9-11, we've already given up some of our freedoms in the name of security. People of Middle Eastern descent, most of whom are good, law-abiding Americans, already cope with being viewed with suspicion just because of the way they look.
Virginia Tech will have to live now with everything it did being closely examined. Already, there have been questions raised about why the campus wasn't shut down after the dormitory shooting, two hours before the carnage at Norris Hall.
I have little question that Virginia Tech officials wish today that's what they had done. I suspect that the next time there is a shooting on any campus and the perpetrator is at large, that's what will happen.
Certainly, Virginia Tech and others need to look at their disaster plans in light of the tragedy in Blacksburg. But there is only one villain here, and it is the man who took so many innocent lives before taking his own.
Despite the knowledge that there are others just as evil still in our midst, that terrorists still hatch plots to kill us, I refuse to be fearful when I get on an airplane. I refuse to judge people I don't know by their appearance. I refuse to live my life looking over my shoulder.
To do that is to allow evil to win.
Sadly, Virginia Tech will always be known for what happened on April 16, 2007. But it should be known, too, as the place a where a professor who survived the Holocaust gave up his own life to save his students, where young men and women showed remarkable courage. And I hope it will be known as a place that came back from unspeakable tragedy, that refused to give in to evil.
In that way, the Virginia Tech family represents us all.