First applicants since Virginia Tech massacre graduate

Posted at 1:58 PM, May 11, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-11 14:10:28-04

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) - First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address to more than 5,000 graduates at Virginia Tech Friday.

This marks the first graduating class that applied to the school after the massacre at the university in 2007.

Kathleen Whitley and Rebecca Clayton, part of the first graduating class that applied after the tragedy, were high school juniors when the April 2007 shootings took place. 

"This shooting does not reflect any part of my four years here," said Clayton. 

Whitley agreed and said that the shootings could have happened anywhere. 

Rachel Webb, another graduate, said she had second thoughts about applying to the school, but opted to follow in the footsteps of her brother and sister and attend the school.

Webb said she did not know the victims, but like many other Virginia Tech students, remembers them often.

"It is a reason to come out to school every day and to be excited about it, because others cannot," said Webb. 

She also said that every year that passes, it feels as if there is a little less of a connection.

"Virtually no student here today was here on April 16, 2007, but it is still powerful memory," said , Virginia Tech President Dr. Charles W. Steger.

But the tragedy had a surprising effect on the school. Steger said enrollments actually increased, which he said was "quite amazing."

Alex Foldenauer, an engineering student, is one of only a few still here who five years ago had already been accepted to Virginia Tech.

Foldenauer, who committed to going in the days following the shootings, is now graduating.  

"It is bittersweet, but we're excited for the next chapter of our lives," he said. 

Foldenauer will spend the next six months in the Philippines volunteering with his wife Candice, before he starts an engineering job.