Movie: The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 2

*no spoilers alert!

I finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy in high school. By the time that this last movie hit theaters, I'd forgotten most plot details (and that there was even another movie). But I went to see it with a friend who hadn't read the series or seen the movies, so gave us both a refresher: thank you, Wikipedia.

We reserved seats ahead of time thinking there'd be an evening rush at 8 p.m. on the first Friday after its release. The theater wasn't as packed as we'd prepared for, but it was the first time I enjoyed all the new trailers (nothing too big to be excited about, just another Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper flick).

There's still opportunity of a post-Thanksgiving rush, but this movie performed the worst in the box office of the entire series (which is still impressive in comparison to other movies). But in comparison to Harry Potter and  the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which brought in more than $1 billion worldwide, this movie fell short of in-series and part two expectations.

While I'm referencing it, I'm a Potter fan and I can understand why that last book had to be split in two — that last one was the longest, with approximately 600+ pages. And I spent three whole days with my nose in it. The only reason I can see for Mockingjay to be split in two is for revenue, but it stretched the plot too thin.  I missed three minutes sprinting to and from the restroom, but a majority of the movie was action scenes or waiting for someone to die. I guess this might be representative of the book itself, but I saw it as further evidence that the book did not need to be split.

Unlike the previous movies, there wasn't a breakout scene, quote or gimmick that was ingrained into my brain when I left, save the blatant momentary foreshadowing at the end of the movie ("Mockingjay, may your aim be as true as your heart is pure." on-point delivery by Julianne Moore)

The star-crossed entourage (better than Taylor Swift's) who traveled with Katniss to the capital was decent. Finnick (sigh, favorite) and Annie can't help but remind me of Tonks and Remus (Harry Potter again, #sorrynotsorry) and the entire time, I was rooting for Cressida (SO B.A.) and empathizing with Pollux.  The movie was fun to watch, but come without expectations (try to, if you've seen the previous movies). The big parts of the plot are squished and the action is stretched, but the graphics and cast made it entertaining.

Here's to the end of your breakout series Jennifer Lawrence — may the odds be ever in your favor.


"What's in Your Sandwich?" Infographic

Assignment for Introduction to Media Production Technology (COMM 1114).
Utilize information based off of instructor example.
Created during class using Adobe Illustrator.

My example below: 

Instructor example below: 


Muslim students stand for solidarity

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News.
Published in print edition, front page, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. 
Blacksburg, Va. — Students, faculty and community members sign a banner reading, "We Stand Together," after the event. Photograph by Christian Sterling/Collegiate Times 
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) held a demonstration of solidarity on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. after a threat found on a bathroom wall last Monday.

Approximately 1,000 students, administrators and community members gathered outside War Memorial Chapel on the Drillfield for "Standing in Solidarity: A Gathering Against Hate.”

The event began with Arabic and English recitations of the Quran. MSA President and senior civil engineering major Obaid Khan followed with opening remarks. Devon Lee, a Ph.D. student in Africana studies and advisor for the Virginia Tech NAACP, emphasized diversity, citing past discrimination.

"I really like the emphasis that several speakers, including the president, placed on learning about people with different lived experiences,” said Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs. “Developing true relationship and friendship across different lived experiences is a very tangible way for people to move forward and something that everyone can do — today, tomorrow — to help advance InclusiveVT, which is developing relationships and friendships across difference.”

Preparation for the event began last Thursday. In less than a week, MSA organized an event with full support from the university community, including President Timothy Sands.

"Frankly, I'm not surprised. When we've had challenges to our community, when people in our community feel threatened, Hokies show up,” Sands said. “It's just something that we do; we do it because we have experienced what it means to be a strong community and what we can learn from it, and we know that we need to be there to support each other.”

Students, administration and all attendees shared witness to the strength and dedication of the Hokie community.

"There have been so many times that I've been here that I've seen the Hokie community come together, and it just reinforced the love and resilience that we really are a Hokie family,” said Sharrika Adams, associate dean of students and director of student advocacy.

Blacksburg, Va. — The crowd of more than 700 people strong gathered outside of War Memorial Chapel. Photograph by Christian Sterling/Collegiate Times
Students of all years, majors, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions came together with different interests, but for one reason: as an expression of solidarity and support for Muslim students at Virginia Tech.

“This kind of stuff is what breaks down the community, so we wanted to come out and see how we can help rebuild that sense after it's been tarnished by the graffiti that some idiot decided to put up,” said Ashley Baboota, a senior hotel and hospitality tourism management major.

The event was held on Nov. 10, a day prior to the day specified in the threat. The idea for the gathering was not born as a direct response, but as an opportunity to learn.

“There was a lot of minority groups there as well, but it was nice to see a nice representation of everyone come out and help support, and going forward, being more aware of some of the things they talked about up there just helped put it in perspective, like different people stories, especially hearing people who might not be going to classes tomorrow and how that affects their experience,” Baboota said.

MSA President and Senior Civil Engineering Major Obaid Khan delivered the opening remarks.

“This is just the first step: we're all coming together, we're all showing that differences won't divide us, but they strengthen us and we are one family,” Khan said. “The fact that this is how we all respond is something that really touches my heart and gives me a lot of hope.”

Members of MSA and the University community had confidence and commitment in the continuation of the movement of solidarity and inclusivity.

"I hope that we continue to stay in the conversation, that we continue to stay in community, that we continue to stand together, that we continue to stay in the struggle, knowing that the only way to become as inclusive as we want to be, is to be in community with each other,” said Patty Perillo, vice president for student affairs. "I think it reminds people that community is powerful and that when we come together and stand for an important cause, we can rise above hatred, we can rise above pain, we can rise above threats.”

After the closing remarks by Khan, he asked those in attendance to come together and sign a banner in a demonstration of support for the Muslim community.

"I think it shows that this is a very special place. I have heard from students, I have heard from faculty, I have heard from the administration that there's something special happening here, and I've now been here eight weeks,” said Tracy Vosburgh, senior associate vice president for university relations who joined the Hokie community earlier this year. “You feel it, and when you come to an event like this, you know, this is a pretty special place.”

Both the size and diversity of attendees inspired members of MSA, and provided a sense of safety and security for some, even on their own campus.

“The quick response was really amazing actually, and it was nice to get this amount of response, this amount of people to stand with us and understand how it might feel to get this type of threat and then try to be singled out of a community you've always felt a part of,” said Mehak Khokhar, a senior biology major and member of MSA.

The speakers explained hate as ignorance and encouraged interaction with other people as the solution. "It gives me hope: hope that there is room for change and hope that we can actually come together, not only in times of mourning, but in times of action,” said Fawad Mohammad, a senior civil engineering major and vice president of MSA. “Seeing this and seeing the outcome and seeing the students who came out in the cold, it makes me happy that we are all one nation and one family.”

The crowd was comprised of diverse identities, all members of the Hokie community.

"I think it's really important to be here to show support,” said Sarah Busch, a sophomore civil and environmental engineering major. “We're all Hokies, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race and we need to stand up for what we believe in.”

Not all students who believed in the movement were able to attend. Despite absences, the crowd was sizeable, and stood unified and unbreakable, representing a community with the potential and commitment to change.

"Even though we are the targets, there are other groups out there, people in particular too, that come from different backgrounds,” Khokar said. “I think going forward means that we all stand together, accept our differences and just learn to make this world a better place.”


Campus bathroom graffiti threatens students

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Breaking News. 
Published online on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015.

The Virginia Tech Police Department is investigating a graffiti threat in a university bathroom after a Monday, Nov. 2 alert was emailed to students.

The graffiti on a bathroom stall in Price Hall stated, “I will be here 11/11/2015 to kill all muslims (sic).”

 A VT Police email alert was sent at 2:03 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5 titled, “SITUATIONAL AWARENESS — SEEKING ASSISTANCE.”

Police and Detective John Waid of the Investigations Unit are requesting information via phone, online or the LiveSafe app.

"We take any and all such vandalism and threats very, very seriously, and we're working very hard to solve the case,” said Mark Owczarski, vice president for university relations and spokesperson for the University. “If there was ever a moment in which the University felt there was even a remote possibility that you needed to know something for your safety, we would have told you — and we are telling you now.”

Virginia Tech Police declined to comment on this story at this time.

"I was a little scared, but I don't think anything tangible (will come of it), just because it's kind of a cowardly act to write it on a bathroom stall door,” said Rayan Salih, junior biochem major and treasurer of the Muslim Student Association (MSA). “It makes me a little cautious, just because sometimes I do forget that I wear this scarf.”

According to its GobblerConnect page, the MSA has 81 members.

"It was disappointing that there is somebody out there with so much hate that they would write something threatening a huge portion of our campus student population with violence,” said Obaid Khan, senior civil engineering major and president of the MSA. “If it's left unchecked, it will manifest itself in violence.”

VT Police sent reminders for all community members to be aware and cautious and reach out to VT Police, the Dean of Students Office or Hokie Wellness for additional support or care.

“The leaders on campus should really take a stand against this, especially leaders in the University,” Khan said. “Also student leaders should take a stand against this, united in the sense that one segment of our Hokie family here is being threatened with death.”

“I am so sad to hear something like this, especially in Virginia Tech, where we have a huge amount of diversity. We have people from everywhere in the world, from different cultures, different religions, and all of them are here to study and to work, and I am so sorry to hear that someone at Virginia Tech has this feeling towards Muslims,” said Haytham Almarakeby, a graduate student in computer science and treasurer for the Islamic Student Assembly (ISA).

Khan and Fawad Mohammad, vice president of MSA, have started a plan for MSA to stand in solidarity and to clarify what Islam is.

“I think this is based on the lack of knowledge, the lack of communication, the lack of understanding,” Almarakeby said. “I think the proper way to address this challenge, actually, is to increase awareness.”

Virginia Tech stands as one, echoing the strength the community has built over time. “This is a critical moment in which we can all let each other know that yes, we are all different, yes, we have different backgrounds, yes, we might be from different ethnicities, we might follow different religions, but there's one uniting factor: the fact that we are not only all Hokies but the fact that we are all humans,” Khan said.

Both MSA and ISA are working to increase knowledge and clear misconceptions about Islam for students across campus.

“Something I really, really, really want to emphasize is that if you have questions, please, please ask,” Salih said. “This is one person, and this one person doesn't speak for the entire community. My three years at Virginia Tech have been amazing.”

Students can call Detective John Waid at 540-231-6790 or VT Police at 540-231-6411 with tips.


Virginia Tech logo

Into assignment for Introduction to Media Production Technology (COMM 1114).
Recreate the Virginia Tech logo, 3D extra credit.
Created using Adobe Illustrator.


Student biker hit by car at crosswalk

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Breaking News.
Not on assignment; spot reporting.
Published in print edition on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2015.

BLACKSBURG, Va.  The two-lane two-way crosswalk on Prices Fork Road between from the academic side of campus and The Edge apartments deals with heavy pedestrian and street traffic during rush hours and between classes. Photograph by Lauren Pak
A student driver hit a student biking across a crosswalk on Monday, Nov. 2, at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Prices Fork Road. The cyclist, Tyler Thompson, a junior computer science major, did not sustain serious injuries at the scene and declined medical attention.

Thompson was following pedestrians across the crosswalk from campus towards The Edge Apartment Homes when his bike was hit by a car in the right lane driving towards the intersection.

“I go this way every day; every single day,” Thompson said. “I ride bikes on the trails, on the road, and this is the first time I got hit. She totally didn’t see me at all.”

Thompson was thrown over the handlebars of the bike and landed on his shoulder but was unsure if he hit the car or the ground. Thompson estimated the incident will cost a total of $700 in replacements, $600 for the bike and $100 for the jacket.

“I wait every time until the light’s blinking, and they say to wait until the lights are blinking at the crosswalk, so I wait,” Thompson said. “I saw the first person stop, and it was like, ‘Well, the first person stopped, so surely the next person’s going to stop in the next lane, but I guess they didn’t see me or whatever, so I don’t know.”

BLACKSBURG, Va.  Tyler Thompson stands in front of his damaged bike in a parking lot where he and the driver pulled over to have a conversation. Photograph by Lauren Pak/Collegiate Times
Students had been walking in front of and behind Thompson when he was hit. He agreed that a pedestrian walking next to his bike would have likely been hit. Moving forward, Thompson does not plan to take extra caution.

“I’m really not hurt too bad,” Thompson said. “It really is supposed to be somewhere people can cross safely and not have to worry about getting hit. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, so I don’t see why I should change what I was doing in a safe place.”

This is the second recorded bike accident this year after the death of Mark Slough, fueling concern over safety. According to the Code of Virginia, bikers at crosswalks have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians. Virginia Tech Police encourages bikers to dismount at crosswalks. “Stuff happens, so I’m not going to get all mad at her or whatever,” Thompson said. “But stuff happens; it’s just like everyday life. It’s a Monday, right?”

The Virginia Tech student who was driving declined to comment at the scene, and Blacksburg Police was unavailable for comment.


Highway 55 diner to open mid-November

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles. 
Published on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.

BLACKSBURG, Va.  The Highway 55 sign is lit during closed hours, as construction and finishing touches inside are paused for the night. Photograph by Ben Weidlich/Collegiate Times
Highway 55, a North Carolina-based 50s diner chain specializing in burgers, shakes and fries, will open in Blacksburg on Monday, Nov. 16.

The restaurant, located near the Math Emporium, is undergoing its final touches.

"Virginia Tech had a lot to do with it,” Don Downard, president of Highway 55 said. “Virginia Tech, we know, is a good school. My brother went to school there and so does my niece, but we didn't expect to have such highly qualified people applying for these positions.”

Fifties music will set the atmosphere with vintage movie posters and Elvis records decorating the walls.

The chain has more than 50 restaurants concentrated in the southern United States and three international restaurants in Denmark and the United Arab Emirates. Blacksburg is one of the two in Virginia. The other is located in Virginia Beach.

“It's a really, really good community,” Downard said. “We felt like it was a place that not just people traveling through would want to eat; it's a place where the local population would want to eat and not feel like they have to eat the same thing every time they come in.”

The menu features burgers, wings, sandwiches and desserts, including their signature custard, which is made into concretes and floats. Other highlights include the pimento cheeseburger and the John Boy & Billy chicken sandwich.

"Highway 55 has what I believe is probably the best custard you'll have anywhere,” Downard said. “I always equated custard with soft serve ice cream, but I've learned from Highway 55 that real custard is actually better than ice cream because it has a higher cream content.”

If a customer can complete the Five-Five Challenge, by finishing a 55 oz. burger with at least four toppings, fries and a 24 oz. drink in less than 30 minutes, the meal is free.

"It's a big, sloppy mess that you don't want to eat in the car,” Downard said. "They have competitions in North Carolina where professionals come in to do this, and a woman actually owns the title, and she's not even a big woman. She did the whole thing in less than three minutes."

The diner will host a contest to win a free burger every week for a year upon opening (details unconfirmed). Loyalty cards, eligible for all purchases of at least $4.99, can amount to a custard or a full meal.

"One of my goals as the human resources person is to work around students' schedules because school is more important,” said Lynda Downard, the director of operations and wife of Don Downard. “I know some businesses can't do that, but we are certainly going to do our very best to work around students' schedules so that they have the opportunity to learn and work from that, but at the same time, they really are here for school."

Downard is optimistic but plans for future challenges, specifically holidays when a majority of students leave Blacksburg. The restaurant hopes to become involved with student organizations at Tech as well as the on-campus community.