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A Reflection on 9/11

For twenty years, the University community has come together in sorrow, compassion, unity and remembrance for those lost.

Flags on the lawn in front of Carnegie Library

On Sept. 11, 2001, life as we knew it changed forever.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in northern Virginia and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania took the lives of 2,977 people, including 30 Syracuse University alumni. Two decades have passed since that tragic day—a generation, as most of the students who study at Syracuse University today were babies or not yet born and have no memory of the events.

Over the past 20 years we have witnessed both beauty and brokenness. By pausing to gather and reflect as a campus community, we hope to spark and sustain healing and hope for all those committed to serving as instruments of peace.

—Rev. Brian Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel

For those on campus that day, a normal Tuesday morning quickly turned upside down. Within moments after the news reached the campus, crisis teams comprising administrators, faculty and staff came together to respond. Stunned faculty, staff and students crowded around television monitors, watching the events unfold. The doors of Hendricks Chapel were opened and a candle was placed at the head of the center aisle. For the next two days, University chaplains rotated shifts to attend to the needs of students, faculty and staff.

At 3 p.m. that day, more than 2,000 members of the University community came to Hendricks Chapel to hear news updates from administrators and words of comfort that chaplains drew from Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Counselors were mobilized around campus. Buildings remained open, encouraging people to gather and find comfort in each other.

Hendricks Chapel packed with students.
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 2,000 members of the University community came together in Hendricks Chapel to receive updates on the unfolding events and to find comfort in words from different faith traditions and in each other.

The evening after the terrorist attacks, students, faculty and staff gathered on the Quad around oversized white sheets supplied by the Student Association. On these sheets, they wrote their thoughts and feelings. Some used the words of Anne Frank, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, while others wrote original compositions.

Those Sheets of Expression, as they became known, were hung from the Hendricks balcony on the first anniversary in 2002. A second set of sheets was created during the University’s “One Year Later” commemoration program so the campus community could reflect on the events and aftermath of the previous year. The sheets were donated to the University Archives after the 2002 services.

In the days that immediately followed, thousands volunteered to donate blood, and a call for clean shirts and socks for rescue workers resulted in hundreds of pounds of clothing being collected on campus and sent to New York City by the truckload. Students organized a candlelight vigil on the chapel steps, and an interfaith service was held in October for the Syracuse University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry campuses.

Students writing on a long roll of paper in the Shaw Quad.
In the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, students, faculty and staff used white sheets, supplied by Student Association and spread across the Quad, to share their thoughts and feelings.

Syracuse University alumni were part of the country’s response to the attacks, including as first responders, medical providers, counselors, military personnel, policy makers and members of the media. “You have reason to be very proud of your University in this time of crisis,” Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw wrote in the winter 2001-02 issue of Syracuse University Magazine. “Reaction to the September 11 events was immediate and effective.”

Shaw also encouraged University community members to use their unique position to search for answers. “As the nation and the world struggle to find answers, we know we must be true to the essence of a university—a place where the search for truth can go on unhindered by fear of reprisal. This is the unique role we have been granted, one we must carry out if we are to have a present worth preserving and a future worth our hope.”

The First Anniversary

Twin Towers memorial sculpture inside of Slocum Hall.
On the first anniversary in 2002, a memorial to the Twin Towers was created in Slocum Hall as part of the studio led by School of Architecture Visiting Critic Julian Bonder.

On the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the chimes in Crouse College tolled 31 times—at 8:46 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 9:43 a.m., 9:59 a.m., 10:10 a.m. and 10:29 a.m. The chimes corresponded to the moments when the World Trade Center’s north tower was struck, the south tower was struck, the Pentagon was struck by American Flight 77, the World Trade Center south tower collapsed, United Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania, and the north tower collapsed. Thirty tolls signified the 30 Syracuse University alumni who were killed at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The 31st chime was for all of the other victims of the terrorist acts.

Schools, colleges, departments and organizations within the University found different ways to mark the anniversary. For example, the School of Architecture hosted internationally renowned architect Julian Bonder, a leading scholar on architecture, memory and memorials.

Ensuing Years

In the years since the terrorist attacks, Hendricks Chapel has provided space each Sept. 11 for individual prayer and reflection.

The University marked the 10th anniversary with an interfaith service in the chapel; an exhibition of the 9/11 Sheets of Expression; service projects; panel discussions on the impact of the tragedy; and the launch of Better Together, a yearlong community engagement initiative planned around the issue of hunger. “We hope to invite our community to a continued celebration of unity and peace, rather than a one-day moment of silence,” said Tiffany Steinwert, then dean of Hendricks Chapel. “September 11 calls us all to act on behalf of our communities and our world.”

Following the 10th anniversary service, a living sculpture called A Tree of 40 Fruit was planted on the Quad in remembrance of the victims and as a continuing sign of hope and renewal for the University community. The tree was a piece from the living garden of work by Sam Van Aken, associate professor of studio arts in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

We hope to invite our community to a continued celebration of unity and peace, rather than a one-day moment of silence. September 11 calls us all to act on behalf of our communities and our world.

—Tiffany Steinwert, former dean of Hendricks Chapel

Also that year, a series of panel discussions featuring University faculty, staff and students were held focusing on the impact of the tragedy. They delved into such topics as rethinking trauma and patriotism and citizenship in a post-9/11 U.S.; the role of the arts in shaping public memory; negotiating trauma; and the media and 9/11.

The 15th anniversary was marked with sung ecumenical prayer followed by an interfaith service on the Hendricks Chapel steps. The event was held to “come together for peace, love, justice and to stop the violence.”

An Ongoing Quest for Understanding

In the years since, scholarship and research on the Syracuse University campus has addressed questions raised by the events of 9/11.

Woman stands at lecturn in front of 9-11 memorial pioster
Laura Beachy ’12, a Newhouse student and Remembrance Scholar, spoke at the 10th anniversary memorial service in 2011. Beachy is native of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed on 9/11. With fellow student Corey Sage ’12, she created a documentary to tell the story of Flight 93.

The Institute for Security Policy and Law was founded in 2003 as the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, a collaboration between the College of Law and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs that has its roots in the global response to terrorism in the wake of the attacks. It has since expanded to work across the Syracuse University campus and beyond on a wide spectrum of national and international security topics, including homeland security, the law of armed conflict, violent extremism, postconflict reconstruction, disaster response, the rule of law, veterans’ affairs, critical infrastructure, cybersecurity and emerging technologies. The interdisciplinary work of the University’s Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs and its Middle Eastern Studies Program brings together faculty experts and student researchers in the Middle East, religion, linguistics, history, geography, anthropology and more.

Through the years, faculty members have offered expertise to broader audiences in a wide variety of areas, including architecture, forensics, national security, counterterrorism law and policy, cybersecurity, post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma, memory and the media. And Syracuse University, through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, supports the education and career goals of post-9/11 veterans.

20th Anniversary Events

flags on the lawn in front of Remembrance memorial

This year, the anniversary will be marked with a memorial service on Saturday, Sept. 11, at 8:46 a.m. in Hendricks Chapel that will also be livestreamed.

As a tribute of remembrance and resilience, this ceremony will express appreciation for the unity, compassion and courage displayed among those responding to the tragedies brought forth that day. It will include a reflection from Chancellor Kent Syverud, offerings of remembrance and resilience, musical tributes and the ceremonial ringing of 20 chimes and lighting of 20 candles. Music will be provided by the Syracuse University Brass Ensemble, as well as student vocal ensembles organized by José (Peppie) Calvar, associate professor of applied music and performance in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The anniversary will also be commemorated at the Syracuse football game vs. Rutgers on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.

“Over the past 20 years we have witnessed both beauty and brokenness,” says Rev. Brian Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel. “By pausing to gather and reflect as a campus community, we hope to spark and sustain healing and hope for all those committed to serving as instruments of peace.”

Kelly Rodoski

This story was published on .

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