For some sophomore students returning to Umpqua Community College, this is a time to remember and honor the victims of the Oct. 1, 2015 school shooting, while also looking forward to the new school year.
“When this tragedy happened, you can’t deny that it happened but you have to move on and have the strength to come back to school,” second-year student Casey Conemac said. “After Oct. 1, it kind of empowered me to come back. I wasn’t afraid. It’s not a good thing what happened but it also makes you want to come back, have a purpose, get your college degree and be proud of it.”
Conemac, who is studying computer information systems and journalism, was the web editor for the UCC Mainstream newspaper last year and is considering becoming a photo journalist.
The Mainstream, he said, covered the school shooting and related hard news stories, but it also became a platform to show how the students came together and how they can inspire change, peace and hope for UCC.
Conemac and other students on the paper had the opportunity to attend Collegiate Day in Eugene, where they talked on a panel about their experience covering the events of Oct. 1.
“It was really interesting because it was our way of saying goodbye to the tragedy and trying to move on,” Conemac said. “It was really good for the Mainstream to go and talk about it. I feel like if you talk about something more and get it off your chest, you feel better about it.”
Conemac also got involved in photography and started a project called “A Day in the Life of People,” which showcases black and white photos of people in the work force who may be underappreciated, including a local barista. He hopes to get more content that’s geared toward Roseburg, such as photos of someone who works at a mill or cuts down trees.
“That’s my way of contributing and giving back to the community,” Conemac said.
Another second-year student, Ciara Byars, was also on campus during the shooting and attended some of the memorials and vigils that followed. She was part of the Associated Students of UCC, which helped with the creation and distribution of the iron Oregon signs with the hearts. She also helped organize all the gifts that were given to the school.
As last year’s activities officer for ASUCC, however, Byars helped bring students together in lighthearted events that didn’t have to do with Oct. 1, including a black light dodge ball game and the spring fling.
“Our main focus as student government was staying focused on the students and trying to keep it our school. Because everyone else was focusing on the events of Oct. 1, our job was to focus on being students and trying to keep things as normal as we possibly could,” Byars said. “If everything was focused on that all the time, it would be difficult for students to be here and continue to come back.”
She said many students became like a tight-knit family last year, and it’s different seeing all the new students that weren’t there on Oct. 1.
“It’s actually kind of weird having a bunch of new students on campus,” she said. “It’s a little different knowing that eventually it’s going to be a new cycle of students that weren’t there.” For the most part, though, her classes are going well and it’s back-to-school as usual.
Byars looks forward to participating in the honor society and helping to restore the community garden on campus. After spending her first year constantly busy with extracurricular activities and student government, she wants to spend this year learning how to be a student. Once she earns her UCC transfer degree, she hopes to major in elementary education at Oregon State University.
Her advice for other students is to get involved on campus.
“Getting involved changes everything, it opens you up to a new world of the campus and you get to know a lot of people, so it’s pretty fun here,” she said.
Conemac added, “Just have a positive outlook and know that it gets better, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”