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Campus comes together to honor 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks

Members of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps participate in a “retiring of colors” ceremony to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Cut during Sunday’s ceremony.  (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) Members of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps participate in a “retiring of colors” ceremony to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Cut during Sunday’s ceremony. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) The Carnegie Mellon choir, directed by Robert Page, sang a selection of solemn and patriotic songs following Cohon’s speech at the ceremony on Sunday. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) The Carnegie Mellon choir, directed by Robert Page, sang a selection of solemn and patriotic songs following Cohon’s speech at the ceremony on Sunday. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor)

Under mostly cloudy skies and in view of a Fence painted in stars and stripes, around 100 members of the Carnegie Mellon community came together Sunday afternoon to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

The 45-minute program on the CFA patio began with a selection from Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” played by the Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble. After the musical introduction, University President Jared Cohon opened the ceremony with some brief remarks.

Calling Sept. 11, “a day of trauma for this country [and] a day which many have called the saddest day in our history,” Cohon contrasted the horror of 9/11 with the heroism of first responders in New York, the bravery of passengers on the crashed Flight 93, and the compassion Americans showed each other in the days following the attacks. At Carnegie Mellon, he said, “the response of students was something we were all proud of.”

As the immediateness of 9/11 wore off, Cohon said he was disappointed in the way American society “closed in” against certain groups of people. In a university context, he mentioned that visas for international students, even 10 years later, are still more difficult to get. “It would be a shame ... if one of the long-term effects is if we lose openness and diversity,” he summarized.

Seven Carnegie Mellon alumni lost their lives in the 2001 terror attacks. Cohon read their names, and English department professor Jim Daniels recited “Us, Now,” the poem he wrote in their honor. The poem is printed on a plaque in front of Carnegie Mellon’s 9/11 Memorial Tree on the hill next to the tennis courts. Currently, the plaque is also decorated with roses left by the members of the university’s alumni association board.

After Cohon’s remarks, the Carnegie Mellon choir sang “America the Beautiful” and a Hebrew version of Psalm 133. The text’s English translation was read by sophomore biology major Angela Yi. Junior social and decision sciences student Archit Kumar read a Hindu prayer for peace in Sanskrit and English. Steven Pepin, a junior in mechanical engineering, gave the Prayer of St. Francis, which was concluded with a choral “amen.”

The only applause of the somber but brisk gathering occurred when Cohon asked the crowd to recognize the event’s planners and participants. The ceremony then concluded at the Memorial Tree, where Cohon led a moment of silence.

The event was organized by the Student Life Office and School of Music professor Robert Page, with participation from campus musical ensembles and students of faith contacted by Student Life, said Student Life coordinator Ken Lawson. “There’s no prescriptive way that a group of any students ... are going to look to think about this day,” said Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno, noting that Sunday’s ceremony was designed to bring the community together but to allow individual participants to reflect and react in their own ways.

Pepin, president of the Catholic Newman Club, was one such participant. A fourth-grader at the time of the 9/11 attacks, he said after the ceremony that he had been thinking about the perspective that today’s kids would have toward the events of 10 years ago. “They probably weren’t even alive,” he said. “Even I didn’t understand the repercussions at the time.” He also hoped that the commemoration would encourage people to remember the lessons of 9/11 throughout the year, not just on the attacks’ anniversary.

Despite the societal polarization and divisiveness that Cohon referred to in his speech, Pepin and Casalegno both thought that Carnegie Mellon had remained a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds.“It’s a very friendly place. There’s always people smiling and making you feel welcome,” Pepin said.

Casalegno recalled a vigil held at the Fence in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist bombings in Mumbai, India, at which a Pakistani student spoke about her fear of being alienated because of her background. “The way she was received by the campus was very touching to me,” Casalegno said. “I’ve been touched on many occasions ... by the openness of our students.”

Other facets of Carnegie Mellon’s 9/11 commemoration included a panel discussion Friday with members of the local media, and bagpipers who played on the Cut Sunday morning at the times when hijacked planes struck New York, Washington, and western Pennsylvania.