The sun was barely peeking over Woolsey Hall Monday morning, leaving Beinecke Plaza in a crisp shadow as more than 100 bleary-eyed, somber Yale students and staff gathered to remember the horror that struck 15 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001.
During the ceremony, which included a reading of the names of the Yale alumni lost on 9/11, an appearance by the Yale Police Department honor guard and the raising of the flag by Yale Reserve Officer’s Training Corps students, Thomas Burke DIV ’18 — president of the Yale Student Veteran Council —reminded the audience of how many years had gone by since the tragedy, and the need to remain resilient regardless of the passage of time.
“This year, the freshmen of Yale College were most likely two or three years old when our country was attacked,” he said. “It’s been long enough that the children of the members of the Yale community that we lost could now be students here.”
Burke emphasized that the attacks, while undeniably tragic, united many Americans. The country grieved together, men and women ran to serve together, neighbors healed together —and in the soft autumn morning sunshine 15 years later, members of the Yale community stood together.
Burke highlighted the construction of two new residential colleges, set to open in fall 2017, as evidence of the Yale community’s resilience in the face of evil.
“This development [is] indicative of our community’s ability to not just survive through a crisis, but thrive,” he said.
Reflecting on his own experience as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, Burke recounted how he healed along with a country that was still reeling from the shock of the dreadful attack. He described how, after returning from war, he would subconsciously find his way to Ground Zero. He recalled how the mirrored tiles of One World Trade Center, built on the site of the Twin Towers, drew attention, in a “triumphant design [that] forces your gaze upwards towards the sky, just as our gazes were forced up 15 years ago as we watched in horror as two planes created immeasurable damage.”
After Burke’s speech, nine current Yalies approached the microphone and, one by one, called out the names of the nine Yale alumni lost 15 years ago: Stacey Sanders ’98, Charles McCrann LAW ’72, Richard Lee ’91, Bradley Hoorn ’01, Elizabeth M. Gregg GRD ’77, David Berray ’84, Christopher Murphy ’88, David Berry ’80 and Bennett Fisher ’66.
At 8:46 a.m., the precise time the attack began, those gathered bowed their heads in silence for those lost. The melancholy tune of “Taps” rang out in Beinecke Plaza as the Yale ROTC members carefully raised the flag to half-mast.
Morse College Head Catherine Panter-Brick, who attended the ceremony, called it “very beautiful and intimate.”
“It was very moving when we were called not to forget the individual people who lost their lives, and very moving when reminded of the values of community and resilience,” she said.
Zulfiqar Mannan ’20, an international student from Pakistan, noted that the ceremony happened to coincide with the Muslim holiday Eid.
“I am amazed that Eid, a Muslim holiday I celebrate at home, and the 9/11 remembrance ceremony are being celebrated on the same day, at the same location,” he said. “It truly shows the diverse and respectful nature of Yale as a community.”
He noted that attending the service opened his eyes to the immediate rawness of the tragedy and caused him to reflect deeply on the significance of being the last generation of freshmen who will remember their whereabouts on that catastrophic morning.
The ceremony concluded with a closing prayer, with a reminder for the students, staff and family members gathered: “Let us embody peace.” As soft morning sunlight bathed Beinecke Plaza, the crowd filtered out, and the heavy silence lifted.