Students and faculty gathered in Bourne Garden early Saturday morning for a memorial service to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Several faculty members shared personal stories, readings and poems intended to keep the stories and memories of 9/11 alive, particularly for a new generation of students.
At 8:46 a.m., the exact time that American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the community observed a moment of silence. They paused to remember the 2,996 people who died that fateful day in the Twin Towers in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and on board Flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the hundreds of thousands who have died in the years since.
Head of School Peter Becker began the service by acknowledging the significance of those events, for the United States and the world. “It was a beautiful day, much like this one, a day we will never forget.”
He recalled that he and his wife, Amy Julia, were at a conference outside Philadelphia when they heard the news that first one and then a second plane had flown into the World Trade Center. They turned on the TV to see the buildings engulfed in smoke and flames. Becker remembers the chaos of those moments, the towers falling, first one, then the other, and seeing the images of people covered in dust and ash. “The country just came to a halt.”
Many of those who live in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., were impacted directly or know someone who was impacted by the tragedy of that day, “when 19 men turned airplanes into weapons,” he said. As Americans, we sometimes struggle with our grief. “We want to do something about it,” he said. “But today the thing we do is lament the loss. That is the way to heal.”
Today was not a day for analysis, but for pausing and remembering and allowing the reality of those events to shape our hearts and minds, he said.
During the service, Emma Eschweiler ’24 read a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
Seth Low, Associate Head of School and a member of the Washington Volunteer Fire Department, wearing his dress blue uniform, read an account from author and historian David Halberstam’s book, “Firehouse,” which tells the story of Engine 40, Ladder 35 in New York City and the firefighters who were among the many first responders who died on September 11.
Amy Paulekas, Director of Studies, shared a reading by Susan St. John Rheault, a former sea instructor with the Outward Bound School and author of “To Sail Beyond the Sunset,” a collection of 400 color photographs and 100 voices from the field. The passage began: “Granite. Of purpose. Of endeavor. Our efforts. Upon which we build. Bare rock. Lying in somber strength. Accepting sun climb and moon set. Absorbing diverse rays and colors, running shadows which move on. Not reflecting – but receiving. The rock is warmed – but it retains its strength.”
Mike Marich P’23 ’24, Athletic Director and Head Boys Lacrosse Coach, shared a speech he first delivered at School Meeting in 2016, recalling what happened after he arrived at his office on the 44th floor of a building in midtown Manhattan 20 years ago. Stepping off the elevator, he found his coworkers huddled by the window, which had “an unbelievable view all the way to the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty.” Marich escaped safely and that afternoon, asked his parents to call a woman they had never met, Kiersten Chapman, who soon after became his wife.
Lauren Lord, Assistant Dean of Students, and Morgen Fisher ’03, Science Department Chair, both dressed in the dark blue EMT uniforms of the Washington Ambulance Association, read a poem together titled, “The Names,” by Billy Collins. He was the poet laureate at the time of the 9/11 attacks and wrote about the victims one year later:
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
Following the moment of silence, Dean of Students Ashley LeBlanc spoke, reminding students of the responsibility they hold: to remember. “As Mr. Becker mentioned, you are the start of a new generation: some of the first students who were not born, or were so young that you don’t necessarily remember the events of that unimaginable day. What you have heard are the stories. Likely many different puzzle pieces, these stories have all come together and combined to form a memory for you, and though possibly abstract, a beautiful puzzle of memory and remembrance.”
“Stories and moments of reflection, like that of today, have the ability to keep memories of those we remember alive. And so, today, 20 years later, we remember. We continue to tell, to speak, to share,” said LeBlanc, who also shared a quote from her favorite storyteller, Tim O’Brien, author of “The Things They Carried.” He wrote: “My life is storytelling. I believe in stories, in their incredible power to keep people alive, to keep the living alive, and the dead … But this, too, is true: stories can save us.”