Remembering 9/11, 10 Years Later
Issue   |   Wed, 09/14/2011 - 00:23
Photo by Sarah Ashman '14
The Choral Society performed “You are the New Day” to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2011 events.

On a chilly morning this past Sunday, students, faculty, staff and members of the Amherst community gathered at Memorial Hill to remember a day that was like any other — until a horrific tragedy rocked the nation, the aftershocks of which can still be felt today, 10 years later.

Director of Religious Life Paul Sorrentino led the memorial for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which began with the playing of the bells of Stearns Steeple. Built to honor the alumni lost in the Civil War, the bells rang through campus as students gathered at the war memorial to commemorate the most recent tragedy in American history. It was one that they all remember, despite the fact that many were only in grade school at the time.

At 8:46 a.m. — the minute when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — the bells of Johnson Chapel rang to mark the beginning of two minutes of silence. President Biddy Martin spoke afterwards, remembering the three Amherst alumni who perished in the attacks that day: Frederick Rimmele ’90, a passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 175; Brock Safronoff ’97, a computer programmer on the 96th floor of the North Tower; and Maurita Tam ’01, who had only recently begun her job on the 99th floor of the South Tower. Martin spoke of “the loss to all of us of a sense of security” and “the passing of a certain American innocence.”

Citing Sigmund Freud, Martin warned of the difference between mourning and melancholia. “Mourning takes courage. Mourning allows us to see what we value, to honor our attachments to people, but also to find forms of renewal and to reattach to people, ideas and principles having tested them, and having digested what was lost,” she said. “Melancholia is the inability over periods of time to do those things. While individuals have done the extraordinary work of mourning, I sometimes worry this country remains locked in a kind of melancholia, a failure to acknowledge our wounds, our changes and to move forward with hope.”

Sorrentino followed Martin’s words with a hope that the College community would not only mourn, but also use their grief for good.

“Today we remember not only those who died but those who miss them,” he said, hoping that those gathered before him would take away the following message. “Who is important in your life, and do you let them know? What will you do with your life to make the world better, and how will you do it?”

The ceremony concluded with members of the Choral Society singing “You are the New Day,” a song that Mallorie Chernin, the director of the choral music program, hoped would provide “relief, reflection [and] love” in this time of grief. She especially remembered Tam, who had been a dedicated member of Choral Society.

“She loved to sing, so much so that her mother called her ‘her little songbird,’” Chernin said. “This once beautiful, lively, intelligent and talented creature was reduced to a fragment — all that was recovered was a jawbone. I think of her so often. We have a plaque devoted to her memory in room three of the music building, and I keep a picture of her near my office.”

For those who did not make the early morning ceremony, there was a silent procession on the Amherst Town Common at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, as well as an interfaith service at Grace Episcopal Church.

All members of the campus community were invited to share their thoughts and memories throughout the week on large poster sheets set up in the atrium of Keefe Campus Center. The messages ranged from simple notes of love to memories of fear and confusion from young children who simply had not understood.

Others remember much more vividly. Tim Clark ’12, who lived outside Washington, D.C. in Virginia, recalled his fear and concern at having multiple family members in the city. His brother went to school near the National Cathedral, his father worked five blocks from the White House and his cousin was in New York. He expressed his gratitude for the memorial service, which he felt allowed people to mourn in their own way.

“It was simple, it was to the point,” Clark said. “I remembered [a friend] mentioning that it was the quietest she had ever heard the campus. I mean, what do you say? When we were waiting for the moment of silence to happen, I mentally play[ed] in my mind what was happening in New York that day, the planes coming in, and the bells rung, and this was the moment the world changed, and we entered a whole new way of doing things.”

For Robert Doran, Samuel Williston Professor of Greek and Hebrew, who was in rehab at the time after a car accident, the horror of the attacks gave him a new outlook on his own situation.

“I was training myself to slide out of bed into a wheelchair so I could at least leave the room,” he recalled. “I did not have TV, so it came as a complete shock to me when my wife told me the news. Suddenly my pain was put into perspective, as I thought of the terror those people in the towers must have felt.”

Angie Epifano ’14, who lived in Texas at the time of the attacks, was not directly affected by Sept. 11 itself, but by its consequences. Her father, a long-time military man, was sent to Iraq for the first year of the war and returned a changed man.

“Once he came back he was very different, which changed our family dynamic,” she said. “He became disillusioned with the military and very fed up with the war, with Bush at the time and just how the military was run. He said it was really hard to have to send these young guys out knowing that they were going to get blown up. Having it on his conscience, that he sent out these orders that have ruined people’s lives or have drastically changed their lives, he just couldn’t deal with that anymore.”

An outpouring of wishes for peace and for distance from the bitter partisan politics the country is currently mired in came out of this 10th anniversary. Epifano, for one, hoped people would remember those who are still giving their lives for their country.

“People get very disconnected with the war, and they don’t really understand what sacrifice and struggles the troops have to go through,” she said. “Even if you don’t support the war, you have to support the troops because a lot of them don’t have the option to not be there. And people don’t realize that they’re actual humans, and their lives will be changed forever. Even if they’re not injured or killed, they will be different.”

Ilana Ventura ’12, who was at her Jewish school in New York at the time of the attacks, called for cooperation and understanding between people of various backgrounds, and especially a de-escalation in Islamophobia.

“In the past 10 years what’s really scared me is the extent of the Islamophobia that has grown in this country and in other Western nations,” she said. “If nothing else, I think from 9/11 I’ve learned that we need to put forth way more effort in creating bonds between people who are ‘different,’ because we’re not actually all that different after all. If you bring kids together from Jewish communities, Muslim communities, Christian communities, whatever communities you’re in, you’re going to be able to breed understanding and friendship and not hate and fear, which I think caused and was the result of 9/11.”

Clark echoed Ventura’s sentiments and hoped that the nation could learn from the day of mourning and move forward to a better future.

“The one thing that really sticks out from that day was that there was a sense of unity in the country afterwards,” he said. “Today everything is in gridlock. Everybody seems ready to kill each other. We were so united in that sense … [but] we’ve lost that. I think if we can recover that, find some way to retain it, it would go a long way to helping us.”

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