Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of a National Tragedy

I recently received a note from Reg Blauvelt ’61. He shared a photo of his meeting with Frank Siller, the brother of one of the firefighters who died helping others when the World Trade Center fell on September 11, 2001. Frank’s brother Stephen was on his way home from work when he heard what was happening, and, because of the blocked off roads he took his heavy gear and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel for two miles until he reached the South Tower.  
Frank Siller recently walked 537 miles from the Pentagon (another point of attack on 9/11) to the site of the World Trade Center, now the Freedom Tower and Memorial.  Along the way, he shook hands and stopped to talk to people, sharing stories and honoring those whom we lost on that awful day. This was a spiritual journey for Frank. Twenty years ago, he helped create Tunnel to Towers, an organization that honors Stephen Stiller’s memory by supporting gold star families, the families of catastrophically injured veterans, and the families of injured and fallen first responders.

Twenty years ago, on September 11, two thousand nine hundred and seventy seven souls were lost in New York City, in Washington, DC, and in the crash of Flight 93 in Southern Pennsylvania after the passengers fought back against the terrorists, losing their lives but preventing an attack on the Capitol building. Over seven thousand members of our military have died in America’s War on Terror. Countless veterans have been honored and families have been helped by Frank’s organization. All are heroes. Thank you for sharing this picture, Reg! 

When tragedy like this strikes, people across the world shed tears of compassion. There is a 9/11 Memorial titled “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism” that is located in Bayonne, NJ, on the other side of the Statue of Liberty. It is 100 feet tall and features a giant bronze tower split in the middle in which a nickel-clad tear drop is suspended. That tear symbolizes the tears of the entire world on September 11. The memorial was sent by Russia in 2006.
One of our graduates, Gabriel “Gabi” Jacobs Dick ’19, never met his father. His dad, Ariel Louis Jacobs, was attending a conference in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Gabi stood up during his senior year and gave a courageous speech to our entire community in the Nita Choukas Theater. He taught us a way that he kept himself motivated and connected whenever he faced challenges. The entire auditorium of students and faculty jumped to their feet with rousing support for him and for his future. He is featured in a new documentary, “Rebuilding Hope: The Children of 9/11,” which we will be showing for our entire community as one way we will memorialize this tragic day. 

All of us face challenges and even tragedy in our lives, and we are reminded painfully of mortality and missed opportunities to share our love or say goodbye to those who are taken from us suddenly. There is a personal element to 9/11 for all, and for Americans, these moments, like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of Martin Luther King or Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, or World Wars, are times of deep suffering, and yet also of connection. Our humanity emerges during loss, and each year, all across this country, at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, when Flight 11 hit the face of the North Tower, something brings us together, and it is the thing that binds all human beings together – the spark of something greater, the hope of something greater, the belief in peace and community that first began the process toward civilization. Our campus will hold a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. this year. 

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked what she considered to be the first sign of civilization, and she replied that it was a femur (thighbone) from an ancient culture that had broken and then been healed. Someone had taken the time to bind up the wound and carry the person to safety. Someone had helped someone else. 

It is that part of humanity that drove Stephen Siller to carry his pack through the Brooklyn tunnel to try to help someone like Gabi’s father, and it is that spark, that drive of humanity, that all of us in education hope to cultivate and nurture in our students, our families, and our alumni communities.  

Please be sure to honor 9/11 on this twentieth anniversary and all of the losses endured.

Education for Life - One Student at a Time

Vermont Academy is a coed college preparatory boarding and day school in southern Vermont, serving grades 9-12 plus a postgraduate year.