In Durham, N.C., it is gloomy, 54 degrees and raining. But on Duke University's campus it might as well be 85, bright and sunny.
Wednesday marked the end of a nightmare that has plagued the people of Duke and Durham alike for 395 grueling days. Three students -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans -- have been cleared of all charges regarding the now infamous Duke lacrosse case.
"[North Carolina Attorney General] Roy Cooper said a word today. The word is I-N-N-O-C-E-N-T. I wanted to make sure everybody got that." That is how attorney Joe Cheshire addressed the cameras as he began the press conference held by the defense team Wednesday afternoon.
In a legal system where one is supposedly innocent until proven guilty, it might seem ridiculous to spell it out on television, but no one was laughing. The defense team was determined to get this message across: Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans are not just not guilty, they are innocent. Yes, the justice system has prevailed. But the circus that has ensued since the allegations posed last year has been unfair and misdirected.
Following Cheshire, each of the three players took to the microphone expressing their gratitude towards those who supported them and to address a nation who at this time last year was against them. Their families stood behind them, as they have throughout the past year, as Reade, Collin and Dave conveyed true relief and appreciation that the justice system had corrected its mistake despite the pain felt over the past year.
"Bear with me…I'm a pretty emotional guy and this is an emotional day," said Reade Seligmann as he spoke to, among others, a group of Duke male and female lacrosse players there to show their support as they have from the beginning. The boys were emotional as they thanked those who had believed in their innocence from the start.
Defense lawyers were emotional as they talked about the courageous and dignified men they had come to know over the past year. Across Duke University's campus, students were emotional as they watched an unbelievable saga finally come to an end.
Over the past year, Duke students have created Web groups dedicated to supporting the men's lacrosse team. They have handed out Duke lacrosse bracelets across campus and sported "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" T-shirts.
Seligmann's longtime girlfriend Brooke Jandl and her peer Christiane Regelbrugge have created and led "Duke Students for an Ethical Durham," a group dedicated to the fair and equal treatment of all Durham citizens under the law.
Now as the dark cloud that has loomed over Duke's campus has slowly dissolved, it feels good to be part of a community that has ultimately triumphed in the face of disaster. As a senior who is preparing to leave Duke's cozy campus and enter the real world I am proud to know that these three men, my peers, acted with grace and poise.
Furthermore they did so throughout a situation that was not just about these three men and the party they attended. It was also about race, class and rape -- topics that neither the media nor the nation could resist wallowing in.
This weekend my contemporaries and I will mingle with past generations of Blue Devils as they reminisce about their days in Durham during alumni weekend. It is fortunate and appropriate, I think, that upon the end of this dramatic case, Duke students past and present will have the opportunity to come together and celebrate a university that has withstood severe trial and criticism. It has certainly not been easy, but in traditional Duke fashion, the team has stayed together and the best man has certainly won.