by Madison V. Fisler
Sept. 10, 2013. Last night, students, faculty and staff turned out for the annual Walk for Awareness on Appalachian State University’s campus just as they have each year since 1989. The Walk came to be after university employee Jeni Gray was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered, and Appalachian Alumna Leigh Cooper Wallace survived an assault by the same man and later helped to bring him to justice.
This year, the Walk for Awareness was dedicated to the memory of Wallace, who passed away in December 2012 from complications of pneumonia.
“Leigh was a messenger of hope with her message that ‘you’re stronger than you think.’ The power of her life was huge and she conveyed that strength to every student she taught and coached and certainly to all of those in her connection with Appalachian,” said Cindy Wallace, Vice Chancellor for Student Development before the event.
Wallace was a coach, athlete and teacher at Watauga High School after graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in exercise science in 1992. During her time at ASU, Wallace participated in the track and cross country teams.
Known for her tenacity and her ability to bring out the best in her athletes, she was inducted into the Watauga Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
After serving for years as a steadfast symbol of hope and strength in the community, she passed away at the age of 43.
The event began at 9 p.m. on Sanford Mall, when students, faculty and staff gathered, donning black tee shirts bearing the slogan, “it’s up to me.” Gathering in front of the Plemmons Student Union, speeches were made by many university officials who had more than a few words to say about Wallace, the meaning of the walk and the campus itself.
Chancellor Ken Peacock spoke at the event before welcoming Wallace’s son, Jake Wallace, to the stage to share the words that his mother spoke in the 20th anniversary of the Walk for Awareness.
“This is an illustration of how one person can make a difference,” Peacock said.
“Leigh did more than just survive her attack, she thrived.”
After speaking to a growing crowd, Peacock closed with a resolute statement.
“Tonight is not just a night to remember,” he said. “It’s a call to action. We must not let this happen again.”
After speaking to the almost silent crowd, Chancellor Peacock introduced Jake Wallace, Leigh Wallace’s son, who read her words from her speech from the 20th anniversary of the Walk for Awareness.
Peacock mentioned that Leigh’s legacy was about the importance of community, and though she could not be there to read her own words that night, her son, Jake Wallace, was present to speak for her.
You can view his speech in its entirety here:
After the speeches, the Walk for Awareness began the silent walk through campus from Sanford Mall to the Holmes Convocation Center. At the Convocation Center the Counseling Center and Red Flag Campaign gave a few contributing speeches about awareness and staying safe.
This year’s walk marked the first after Leigh Cooper Wallace’s passing. It is clear from the turnout of this Walk that this annual event will continue to raise awareness and keep students, faculty and staff aware and safe, and that its meaning has not waned from the first Walk in 1989.
Here are some of our photos from the event.
All photos by Ken Ketchie.