On April 2, 2013, YAL at the University of Richmond hosted a memorial to fallen Virginia soldiers. The exhibit, called Eyes Wide Open, included 66 boots representing the 66 Virginia soldiers who died in Afghanistan, along with shoes representing killed Afghan civilians. Through this emotional display, students were given a somber and respectful reminder of the human cost of war.
After doing some research, we discovered the Eyes Wide Open exhibit of the American Friends Service Committee, which has displayed soldiers’ boots at the U.S. Capitol and around the country. Initially, we wanted to host the Iraq War exhibit, but were shocked to hear that the staggering number of casualties meant that we would need multiple large trucks to transport the boots.
To promote our event, we made posters and flyers to distribute around campus. We also distributed flyers and YAL palm cards at our table at the event. On the morning of the event, we strained our backs hauling countless boxes of boots to the event site. We arranged them in the Forum, the busiest spot on campus.
The display also included shoes representing innocent Afghan civilians.
As hoped, our display sparked a profound reaction from students and Richmonders. Countless passersby stopped to read our signs, gaze at the boots and shoes, and take pictures. The response we got was overwhelmingly positive. Students of all political leanings agreed with our message, and a few professors even offered to help our organization in the future. One student broke out in tears after being reminded of her father, who is currently serving overseas.
Before the event, letters were sent out to the soldiers’ families inviting them to pay their respects to their loved ones. Three families visited, including the two children of one of the soldiers. This experience gave us students a humbling reminder of how closely families are affected by the tragedy of war.
As the sun went down, we illuminated the boots with electric candles, which increased the somber ambiance of the memorial.
As the event wound down, YAL members breathed a sigh of relief at having accomplished our goals. Since this was not a recruitment event, we cannot brag about signing up countless new members. However, we raised awareness of our chapter and established a positive reputation for ourselves, which will help with future recruitment. We also look forward to seeing our event covered in the campus newspaper soon. The hundreds of students that passed by our powerful memorial will remember our message of peace and their own emotional reactions for a long time to come.Published in