If there is a single defining event for the United States in the 21st century, that event would be the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The attacks claimed the lives of 2,977 innocent people and injured over 6,000 others. It is almost impossible to properly measure the full impact of the attacks, as their repercussions have been felt throughout the world in the ensuing War on Terror and America’s change in foreign and domestic policy.
So much has already been said on this topic that it is virtually impossible for me, a student at a moderately-sized college newspaper, to add any profundities to the discourse. Instead, I would rather discuss how we observe and remember the anniversary of Sept. 11 here at the University of Connecticut.
On that tragic day 18 years ago, UConn was not spared from feeling the loss that affected so many families and communities across the country. Eight UConn graduates were killed: Richard “Rick” Blood Jr., Class of ’97; Evan Gillette, ’83; Robert Higley, ’94; Joseph A. Lenihan, ’82, ’84 MBA; Scott J. O’Brien, ’83; Margaret Q. Orloske, ’73; Cheryl Monyak, ’79, ’81 MBA and Sean Schielke, ’96.
We often hear statistics instead of names, especially in a tragedy as huge and unfathomable as the Sept. 11 attacks, but here are eight individuals just like us, attending the same classes in the same lecture halls, living in many of the same dormitories. Some were only a few years out of college, barely given a chance to experience life out on their own.
It is for people like these eight and so many others that we must remember that day and honor their memory. Today, the university community will be holding four separate memorials in honor of the victims. According to the Division of Student Affairs, at 8:40 a.m., the Public Safety Complex will be holding a bell ceremony. A few minutes later, at 8:46 a.m. (the time that the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center), the Storrs Congregational Church will ring its bells. Throughout the day, there will be flags along Fairfield Way as well as four memorial wreaths in the Student Union. Students are encouraged to tie a ribbon on one or more of the wreaths as a way to take part in the remembrance.
The university held its first memorial to the victims of the attacks just six days after they occurred, on Sept. 17, 2001. In her article covering the night’s events, student reporter Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu wrote that over 3,000 students, faculty and staff were in attendance. The President of USG (who organized the event), Chris Hattayer, spoke to the crowd, along with UConn Chancellor John D. Petterson and Minister Ken Ferguson. All three agreed that, despite the horror and despair felt by all, the most important thing for students to do was to show compassion and kindness to those around them and honor the memory of the fallen by becoming better people and better citizens.
Of course, those killed and wounded in the attacks were not the only victims of Sept. 11. Just weeks later, we entered into what has become the longest war in United States history, the war in Afghanistan. There, we sought to find the leaders of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and overthrow the brutal Taliban government, which controlled Afghanistan. Less than two years after that war began, we committed even more forces to a second war in Iraq, this time to overthrow the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Between both wars, over 7,000 American servicemen and women lost their lives and tens of thousands more were wounded. It is important that, when remembering Sept. 11, we not only honor those affected in the attacks that day, but that we extend our remembrances to the heroic men and women in our military who served in the aftermath of the attacks, not only those who lost their lives but also those who have come home or are still overseas. The same goes for the first responders on Sept. 11 who risked their lives to prevent more innocent lives from being lost.
While there is no formal ceremony for veterans on campus today; the Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs will hold a Veterans Day ceremony on campus Nov. 11. While official details have not yet been released, it is typically held at 11 a.m. on the Founder’s Green by the Ultimate Sacrifice Memorial. All UConn students are welcome to attend.
Eighteen years ago, Hattayer told the student audience, “We will remember Sept. 11, 2001 for the rest of our lives, and it may turn out to be the defining moment of our lives.” If there is any lesson we must take away, it is that we must all try, as impossible as it may seem, to strive for a world built on love and understanding so that the next generation will not be defined by a similar tragedy 18 years from now.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.