As they did 10 years ago, Yalies and New Haven residents gathered for a candlelight vigil on Cross Campus Sunday night to find community in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Part of a larger series of events organized by both Yale and New Haven leaders in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the twilight vigil brought students, faculty and community members together to reflect on what they had experienced a decade before. Attendees filled the lawn in front of Sterling Memorial Library, some peering over the walls of the North and South courts of Berkeley College, all quietly holding flickering candles.
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Music from a string quartet blanketed the quiet conversations among those waiting for the 7:30 p.m. ceremony to begin. Silence soon fell as the Yale Police Department Color guard presented the American Flag, setting the stage for University President Rick Levin to address the crowd.
“When we gathered 10 years ago this evening, our community was shocked, filled with grief, frightened and uncertain,” University President Richard Levin began, going on to describe the unity and mutual understanding that he said arose among Yalies in response.
Drawing on examples from history, he emphasized that necessary tolerance such as this grows from the ability to apply the analytic skills of the classroom to everyday life: “This is the essence of liberal education. We encourage everyone in this community to engage our reason, to examine all points of view, to shape arguments, to weigh evidence and to develop independently your view of what is true and what is not,” he said.
A reading of a poe, “I think continually of those who were truly great” by Stephen Spender, followed Levin’s address. Afterward, Yale College Council President Brandon Levin ’13 reflected on the devastation he felt when the towers fell, even as a fifth grader in a California classroom.
In his speech, Brandon Levin, too, stressed the importance of joining together.
“We must also reflect on the sense of community and unspoken connection that unites us, for it is within this collective solidarity that we find the strength to renew,” he said.
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler followed, beginning with similar emphasis as she said, “Tonight we share a common memory, though each lens through which we see it is as unique as the next.”
University President Levin remarked that freedom, toleration and open-mindedness are the values of both the University and the country “at its best,” and Kugler added a fourth characteristic for which to strive: an open heart.
Kugler continued, “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. God has placed upon us, each and every one of us, this awesome responsibility. This is perhaps the greatest truth and the greatest challenge of our lives.”
Following a moment of silence, the a cappella group Shades performed “We Shall Overcome.” The Yale Police Color Guard then removed the American flag from its post.
Kugler dismissed the assembly, but a group of about 10 students standing among the crowd began spontaneously to sing the national anthem, inspiring some around them to join while others dispersed.
Three of the singers said afterward that they felt the service focused too much on Yale and not enough on the nation as a whole, nor on the service men and women who died in the attacks.
“There was hardly a mention of America in the entire thing,” one of the singers Briana Pigott ’13 said. “It didn’t meet my expectation of what a memorial service should be.”
Nearly 3,000 students attended the vigil held on Cross Campus the night of the attacks, filling the space from Sterling Memorial Library to Calhoun College, according to a Yale Daily News story published Sept. 12, 2001.