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Third annual 'SU Variety' show represents resilience

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

The Shenandoah University student body is holding the third annual "SU Variety" show this weekend, and while the participants have changed over the years, the purpose behind the event remains the same.

The show was started following the May 2010 unprovoked attacked on two students of the university in Jim Barnett Park. The victims, Matthew Breeden and Michael Petyak, were near their cars intending to leave the park when a group of white men, all in their 20s, approached them, exchanged words and began physically attacking them. Petyak was treated on the scene for non life-threatening injuries, but Breeden was transported to Winchester Medical Center and later underwent surgery at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

"Matthew had serious facial injuries, surgeries...it was very frightening," said Vice President of Student Life Rhonda Colby. "Having said that, his response was extraordinary. He decided that he would not let the attack define him, he would not be 'that guy.'"

Colby explained that when classes started back up in the fall, other students wanted to hold a benefit for Breeden, but he turned it down.

"Matt said no to the benefit for him, and instead said to do one for the community that showed so much support," she said. The first "SU Variety" show was held in September 2010, and funds were raised for the Winchester Medical Center Foundation, which helps pay medical bills for individuals - like college students - who can't afford to pay themselves.

"Students from the conservatory decided to do it, and it was full of joy and life," Colby said. "They chose not respond to violence with violence. You can imagine the fear and anger that was felt after the attack happened, but I was impressed that their response was with love, talent and enthusiasm."

The first two shows raised over $1,000 each, Colby said. Students have chosen to continue putting the show on at the beginning of the school year as a way to bring the community together and also to get freshman involved in school activities as soon as possible.

"At this point, there's a number of students performing who have never met [the students who were attacked], but now they are part of the legacy through this occasion," Colby said. "When we look for new students to add to Shenandoah's student body, we ask that they be high energy, creative, inviting and principled. This variety show touches on all of those."

Brittany McGaffic, a 21-year-old music education major, is the artistic director for the show. Last year, she was the musical director, and she said it's exciting to see how the event has grown since its start.

"Participation has definitely increased each year, and it's been a lot easier to get people to come out and watch," she said. The show will feature 18 acts, including bands from the community, stand-up comedy, and several solo performances. A few acts are returning from last year's show, she said.

"There's great meaning behind this," she added. McGaffic was friends with both victims when the attacks took place.

"With this being such a small school, something like that affects all of us," she said. "It was hard for a lot of people to think that it could happen so suddenly and for no reason. Someone must've been looking down on both of them."

McGaffic said she hopes that with increased participation will come a few students who continue to run the show every year.

"We're always happy to increase our goal for donations, but we'll be happy just to put on a good show," she said. "We're small, but we're mighty and we come together."

The show will start at 7 p.m. on Sunday in the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theater. It will last for approximately one hour and a half to two hours, with one intermission. Tickets are $5, and additional donations are welcome.

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