I attended the Sept. 11 observance [at Ely Hall] both as a representative of the VVA [Vassar Veterans Association] but also because the aftermath of Sept. 11 had a significant impact on my childhood and my military service. I was in the fourth grade on Sept. 11 and another teacher came in that morning to tell our teacher that a plane had just accidentally flown into the World Trade Center. She turned on the news in time for a classroom full of nine-year-olds to see the second tower get hit. That moment changed how my generation saw the world. Later in my life, I joined the Army and saw how the military response was continuing to impact my friends and peers. As the 20th anniversary approached, I reflected on my hopes for this country and its place in the world as well as thoughts of my friends still serving as the U.S. made the difficult decision to leave Afghanistan. I feel the observance stood as a reminder of the importance of peaceful intentions. I hope that during that moment, regardless of politics or religion or opinion, the people in attendance felt united and supported.
- Britt Andrade ’24
As I listened to all the speeches offered during the Sept. 11 Memorial on Friday, I looked up at the trees, reveling at the shards of light filtering through the pine. Then I remembered seeing a similar picture of light seeping through leaves in Terrence Mallick’s film entitled “Tree of Life.” In fact, that scene became what I saw above. Equally in that instant as Professor Jaime del Razo delivered his remarks, I heard the words of Mrs. O’Brien (played by Jessica Chastain) from the movie:
“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life … the way of Nature… and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”
“Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.
Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy… when all the world is shining around it… when love is smiling through all things.”
I am left with a single question, which was echoed by all those who gave speeches at the memorial. How can I be a better human being? How can I follow the way of grace?
- Adedoyin Teriba, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Architecture & Urbanism
I wasn’t alive when the two hijacked planes hit the twin towers, but the stories of my family members still shake me to my core every time I hear them. My father was working two blocks away from the World Trade Center. Two blocks. My life could have never existed had the planes struck a different building and took him down with it. The stories that stood out to me most have always been those of the selflessness of others. Coworkers helping each other out of the burning buildings, strangers calming each other down despite neither one of them knowing what was going on. These stories are what taught me what it means to be a New Yorker. When tragedy happens, we stick together. We help those who can’t help themselves. This is one of the many reasons Sept. 11 is so important to talk about. Especially in the world we live in today, where it seems that all we do is keep dividing, Sept. 11 shows us that in times of great need, or great tragedy, people will come together.
- Aideen Herlihy ’24
I began the Sept. 11 commemoration event at Vassar this year with the assertion, “Peace is possible.” I ended with the acknowledgement that the road to peace is very long and that we travel it together—joining a long line of those who have worked for peace before us and the equally long line of people who will work for this vision after us. Sept. 11 was a sobering day. I was home with my two-year-old son, and my neighbor called to say “are you watching TV?” I turned it on to see an endless loop of the second tower falling, again and again and again. My son was oblivious. But my brother and sister-in-law seemed very much in danger, as both lived in Manhattan and worked downtown.
As it turns out, my brother landed in D.C, that day for work, just at 9 a.m. as the Pentagon was hit, and my sister-in-law overslept and did not make it to her office, across the street from the World Trade Center. Many of her colleagues perished. I felt tremendous relief to have my family spared. Still, in the days and weeks and years that followed, the larger looming pattern of terror that infused global affairs did not wane. Whereas when traveling for my global health work before Sept. 11 Americans were welcomed, after the American invasion of Iraq, a consequence of Sept. 11, we induced fear and distaste. Those were tough years to work in Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa, although the hostility decreased over time; the election of the first African American president in 2008 contributed to greater support for the United States throughout Africa. When I experienced Sept. 11 twenty years later, I felt gratitude that our family was spared, a gnawing dread that peace is still beyond our reach, and a re-energized commitment to promote peace and understanding in everything we do.
- Elizabeth Bradley, President of Vassar
As I was born after 2001, I am seeing and feeling the aftermath and consequence of Sept. 11. To me, it is important to remember the sense of American patriotism and unity that was felt immediately following the attack and was needed to overcome the devastating destruction. Beyond remembering the countless sacrifices and lives changed and lost, Sept. 11 is a reminder that there are people in the world that harbor deep-seeded hate against our country for a variety of reasons. Sept. 11 is a dichotomy between people helping others during the terrorist attack and the hate motivated to carry out this attack. The most important lesson to remember is that as Americans, together we can rise above the hate and violence.
- Sarah Dumaresq ’24
My own connections to Vassar’s Sept. 11 observance are that my office has helped plan—always in collaboration with other offices—many vigils and services marking this day. This includes the candlelight silent vigil we held on the Chapel Lawn twenty years ago. We organized this at the request of students who felt the need to stand together—without the newsreels from the day mediating us—as a human community. It was quite moving to be part of the hundreds of people who came out that night to be together in the flickering light we made holding candle[s]. Then and since then, people have felt a need to connect. From the start, we’ve looked to frame these gatherings around a shared sense of loss and a shared commitment to peace—and in a way that reflects Vassar as a global community. I appreciate that students in the Posse cohort asked, about five years ago, about resuming holding a Sept. 11 vigil—and I’ve invited them to join in the framing around peacemaking that we’ve long used; this has led to thoughtful conversations that I hope we’ll be able to continue with our veterans. This year, I was grateful that my colleagues in the Campus Climate Education and Support Team (a committee I co-chair with Dean Wendy Maragh Taylor) joined as co-sponsors. The issues Sept. 11 reminds us of—around peacemaking in a conflicted world, around moving beyond anti-Muslim sentiment, and much more—continue to be important matters for our “campus climate.”
- Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean for Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices
Sept. 11 is not only a day of remembrance, but also a day of introspection and reflection. My mother had a meeting in the twin towers on that day but decided going wouldn’t be in her best interest, and I reflect each year about what could have been had she decided to attend—I wouldn’t have even been born. Tragedy hits us in many different ways, but it also allows for growth, and the world has grown tremendously in many regards in these past 20 years. Sept. 11 reminds us to grieve for those lost, but it also reminds us to hope for what’s to come and keep striving to meet our goals each and every day.
- Casey McDonough ’24