UD Remembers 9/11
Thousands gather at 9/11 Candlelight Commemoration 
Streaming video of the Candelight Commemoration may be viewed online.

Click here for a low-resolution video at [http://www.udel.edu/UMS/udlive/pr/candlelightsvc-lo.ram].

Click here for a high-reslolution video [http://www.udel.edu/UMS/udlive/pr/candlelightsvc-hi.ram].

Sept. 11, 2002--One year ago, more than 4,000 people sat in stunned silence on the University of Delaware Green trying to make sense of the horrific acts of violence that had shattered the peace of a quiet fall day.

By candlelight, students, faculty and members of the community joined as one to share their fears, their tears, their grief and their anger following the evil events of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists slammed three commercial airline jets into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon and had a fourth grounded in rural Pennsylvania through the brave work of heroic passengers.

Wednesday night, the University of Delaware community gathered by candlelight once more, this time to reflect on the events of that fateful day and how they have changed our world.

A Candlelight Commemoration was held from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, on The Green south of Memorial Hall and, again, close to 5,000 people turned out. The crowd, largely made up of UD students, filled the grassy areas, covered the low brick walls and the lawn sloping up to the Morris Library. UD President David P. Roselle delivered greetings, and was followed on the program by a diverse array of campus voices.

Ismat Shah, associate professor of materials science and an adviser to the Muslim Student Association, said the result of Sept. 11 has been increased concern and compassion, and a political and spiritual reawakening. He recounted two incidents in the wake of the attacks that he said have changed his outlook on life.

The first concerns an anonymous UD freshman who, about a week after the attacks, saw Shah and thanked him for the work of the campus religious organizations. “Then he said something that totally took me by surprise,” Shah said. “He said that if I ever feel uncomfortable going grocery shopping or doing any other chore, I can call him. He will be very happy to do the groceries or any chores for me. I thanked him for his offer and I told him that that will not be necessary.

“As I started walking away from him, I began to reflect on what the young man said and the more I thought about it, the more his offer amazed me. It amazed me that he, somehow, processed the enormous amount of information that was coming out around that time and came to a conclusion that he had to show his concern.

“It amazed me that he had the courage and found it important to stop me and offer me his services,” Shah said. “Many times people have asked me if I have experienced any backlash after Sept. 11, and I tell them this story.”

The second incident came during the summer, which Shah spent on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, working to build a school for young girls, funded in part by donations from the UD community. There he met an old man, who recounted horror stories of war and the bitter life of the refugee camps.

“I asked him what are the things that he and other people in the camp need most,” Shah said. “First, of course, he said we need some food, and then he said he would like to learn some ‘angrezi’ (English) so he can get out of this hellhole and find a job and provide for his family. I walked away from him wondering whether an episode of ‘Sesame Street’ could be more effective in winning the hearts and minds than the daisy cutters and the B-52s.”

Shah said he has hope that knowledge and awareness of the world around us will prevail. “Knowledge is one of the simplest weapons we can all arm ourselves with,” he said. “It is the most potent means of protection from all kinds of evils. It gives you intellectual comfort. It makes you compassionate. It makes you aware. So when we meet again next year, in addition to observing a day of remembrance, we shall also have a day of celebration-­a celebration of awareness.”

Former CNN international correspondent Ralph Begleiter, now Rosenberg Professor of Communication and Distinguished Journalist in Residence, told those gathered that Memorial Hall was an appropriate place for such a commemoration, in that it was built as a memorial to the Delawareans who gave their lives in World War I. Each day, a page is turned to reveal a name of one of those soldiers.

In the years since, Begleiter said, many more young men and women have served and died in the name of freedom, including those who perished this day last year.

“As you emerged from Memorial Hall to pass between those gleaming white columns and descended the steps, you helped establish another new meaning for Memorial Hall,” he said. “Today, right this minute, Memorial Hall no longer represents to you just a dusty old tribute to some distant tragedy. Right now, Memorial Hall continues as a living memorial for all of you, representing our tribute, today, to those who died in, and those who have suffered from, the events of Sept. 11, 2001.”

Candles were lit as reflections were provided by students Makeda Benjamin, a junior from Manhattan who is majoring in exercise science; Piotr Plewa, a second-year graduate student in international relations from Poland; Maggie Zhang, a second-year graduate student in foreign policy from Beijing, China; and Anna Christopher, a junior from Hockessin who is majoring in communication.

Benjamin said she lives in Harlem, an extremely diverse community that houses people from nearly every nation on Earth, and that her home provides a sterling view of Manhattan. That day, her father watched from their window and saw the first plane and then the second hit the World Trade Center.

She cautioned against finding simple answers to the issues that resulted in the attack. “Too many people have simplified the situation by saying, ‘They hate us because we are free.’ You are drowning in ignorance if you believe that.”

Americans must keep open minds and educate themselves about world politics, she said.

A lesson Benjamin has drawn from her home city, she said, is perseverance. “Tonight, we know we are capable of rebuilding in every way possible,” she said.

Noting the resilience of his own people, the Poles, and providing an international perspective, Plewa said, “The tragic events of Sept. 11 have placed American core values at risk, precisely because it was the aim of terrorists to strike against America’s strongest pillars­open-mindedness and tolerance, the two ideas that the Taliban feared the most.”

Plewa said America is “known for its strong tradition of empowering individuals­empowering individuals for themselves, empowering individuals for their country, empowering individuals for the well-being of all nations.”

He said this nation is a “temple of tolerance,” although one that is still under construction, and added that a fitting tribute to the victims of Sept. 11 is to continue with that project.

“As we all know, even here in the United States, where tolerance is highly valued, it has not yet been fully achieved,” he said. “That’s why we must keep on building a nation of tolerance. American society is not the only multiethnic society, but it is definitely one of the few societies that has so far avoided being broken up by ethnic division. Constructing the American temple of tolerance may be a daunting task, especially in the aftermath of the tragedy we are commemorating tonight, but it is also a challenge, a challenge that we must all accept to pay tribute to the victims of Sept. 11.”

As an international student from China, Zhang said the events of Sept. 11 changed some of her stereotypes and preconceptions about America. “Before I came to the U.S., I thought that American people were self-centered and indifferent to each other. I also had the impression that Americans subordinated collective duties to individual rights,” she said, “but after Sept. 11, I observed the care and consideration Americans shared with each other.”

She said the events of the day represent “a tragedy not only to American people, but also to all peace-loving people in the world. Many foreigners, including Chinese people, were also victimized in the event. Counter-terrorism is not a duty only to America, rather it should be the duty of the whole international community.”

A concern, Zhang said, is that America will close its doors to international students. “I sincerely hope that every one of us, both Americans and non-Americans, could draw some lesson from the tragedy,” she said. “We should learn to open our eyes to the rest of the world; we should try to understand and appreciate, or at least tolerate, the different values and ideas cherished by others. We should know the fact that the world is diverse.”

Her hope, she said, is that the events of Sept. 11 will promote unity rather than division.

“There is no question the memories of Sept. 11 will forever stay with us,” Christopher said. “The sound of busy signals in response to frantic phone calls, groups of students, unblinking, waiting in silence, where we were standing when the first, and then the second, and then the third plane hit.”

Christopher said the events of that day have changed her outlook. “I know I am more cautious, more suspicious of people and things that appear strange to me, more concerned with feeling safe and secure,” she said, “but I also have greater feelings of hope, strength and acceptance. There was a resilience and unparalleled courage, a desire to jump back and build up, that shone throughout this country in the weeks following Sept. 11. Even though time has passed, in many ways those feelings haven’t.”

The commemoration, Christopher said, has “encouraged me to open my eyes, to rejoice in people and humanity, to celebrate the future.”

Graduate students in UD’s Professional Theatre Training Program added their voices throughout the commemoration with readings from messages in the Ribbon Garden, which was erected on the south side of Memorial Hall in the days following Sept. 11 as members of the campus community were invited to express their thoughts. [See related story.]

The ribbons are now in the care of the University Archives. Selected messages can be found online at [www.udel.edu/Archives/Archives/ribbon/index.html], and ribbons themselves will be on view Thursday and Friday in the East Lounge of the Perkins Student Center.

Those in attendance were asked by Begleiter to join in reciting a pledge of remembrance and hope, saying in unison:

“As we reflect together one year later upon the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, we, the community of the University of Delaware, pledge never to forget, always to respect, always to hope, and to try to understand.”

The event closed with remarks by Rabbi Eliezer Sneiderman of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, who set forth a challenge.

“The real challenge of commemorating Sept. 11 is Sept. 12,” Rabbi Sneiderman said. “Where do we go from here? Today, we have heard words of hope and inspiration, we have listened to stories of courage and heroism. The question is, what will be done with these words­what will be done with these emotions?

“On Sept. 11, we learned that a few individuals could affect the world, that they could turn it upside down. Today, we have the challenge to turn the world back over.”

Amidst the sadness of that day, he said, was also inspiration. “The contrast between the evil and heroic could not have been more stark,” he said. “Our public servants, the firemen and police officers, were our heroes. With their example as a guiding light, the country was flooded with newfound patriotism and civic pride. We began to focus on those things that held us together. New emphasis was placed on personal relationships; our ties with friends and family. There was a surge in volunteerism and charitable giving. In a few short weeks, over a billion dollars was raised to help those families touched by the tragedy.

“Were these the beginnings of long-term trends or merely short-term blips in behavior? Only you can decide,” he said. “The events of Sept. 11 force us to look inward and re-evaluate what it means to be human. What rights and responsibilities do we have? Are we accountable for our actions? When someone needs us, do we stand by or do we run up the stairs?

“In Jewish law, there is a principle that a change that cannot sustain itself, but rather reverts to an original state, was never a change to begin with. The memory of Sept. 11 demands a permanent change. So how do you know if there is permanent change? True change; true growth is painful. I challenge you not to stand around as a spectator, or to stop after a few flights of stairs, but to run up those stairs and help those around you.”

Article by Neil Thomas

Photos by Eric Crossan and Kathy Flickinger

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