DECATUR --Cassandre Menage will never forget where she was Friday afternoon when she received a text from an American friend that something had happened in France.
“I was in the Woods apartments, where I live, and I really didn't understand the gravity of the situation,” the Millikin University student recalls.
But by the time she reported to work as an usher that evening at Kirkland Fine Arts Center, she understood that terrorists had attacked multiple venues in the center of Paris and many people were dead.
“I had to smile and say hi to everybody,” she said. “It was really hard to be at work.”
Menage, 20, is one of 18 students from the Paris School of Business studying at Millikin this year and one of more than 100 people who attended a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening at Richards Treat University Center to remember the 129 people killed in Paris.
President Patrick White decried the attacks and celebrated the French virtues of reason, culture and the “trinity embodied in the national motto of liberté egalité and fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity),” with a special emphasis on fraternité.
“We come together tonight to honor that impulse of French culture that is so important to us at Millikin, as a community and a family (connected) across wide spaces of time and place,” White said. “We are all Parisians tonight.”
Paul Toure, an assistant professor in the Modern Language Department, initially spoke to the French students in their native tongue then switched to English so everyone could understand his admonition against giving in to fear:
“Be aware of what is happening around you. Be informed. Take action. Do not be afraid, because fear will kill you from within. You are going to be alive, but you can't take action to do things for yourself or your family members or your country.”
Senior Ryan Bodine of Decatur, who nearly three years ago coordinated a similar vigil in memory of the 20 children and six adults shot to death on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., also went to the microphone.
“I've seen a lot of that same spirit these last few days,” he said.
Carmen Aravena, director of the Center for International Education, called for a moment of silence in memory of Victor Munoz, 25, a student at the Paris School of Business who was among nearly 20 people killed at La Belle Equipe Cafe.
Menage said the more than 4,000 miles between Decatur and Paris make her feel safe and homesick at the same time; thankful to have been so far away from the carnage but longing to be with the friends and family she loves most.
When she stood up to speak during Tuesday's service, however, her sisters at Tri Delta Sorority snapped their fingers in support.
“I just wanted to thank you all for coming tonight,” Menage said. “It means a lot to us.”