A Day to Remember
Sept. 12, 2011
By Jennifer Eder and Laura Donnelly-Smith for GW Today
On a day heavy with remembrance, Sunday was also a time for more than 2,300 GW freshman to look to the future.
The students participated in GW's third annual Freshman Day of Service, which also marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The day's theme, "Beautifying Schools, Building Community," sent students to 12 D.C. public schools, two veterans' retirement homes and Fort Dupont Park, where they painted, gardened and cleaned.
Sunday also marked Freshman Convocation - the students' first academic ceremony and a GW tradition - for the class of 2015. Hurricane Irene washed out the original Freshman Convocation, planned for Aug. 28.
After an academic procession and introductions from GW President Steven Knapp, Provost Steven Lerman and the deans of each of GW's schools, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Kaya Henderson spoke to students about her memories of 9/11 and the goodwill she witnessed that day.
"I watched on that day people helping each other. I watched people pick up people they had never seen before and give them rides to wherever they were going. I watched the few people who did have cell phone reception handing their cell phones to complete strangers to help them get to whoever they were trying to get to," she said. "I watched Americans remember that we are inextricably bound."
D.C. Public Schools lost three teachers and three students on 9/11. The group was killed on American Airlines flight 77 while enroute to a National Geographic expo in California.
Ketcham Elementary School fifth-grade teacher James Debeuneure and sixth-grade student Rodney Dickens were part of the DCPS group killed when the American Airlines plane crashed into the Pentagon.
Before beginning to paint murals and clean classrooms at Ketcham, one of the 15 Freshman Day of Service sites, GW students participated in a moment of silence for Debeuneure and Rodney.
"Today they live on in our hearts and in our minds," said Tandi Tyler, Ketcham principal.
Sunday's activities were part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance, which promotes service projects to honor the 9/11 victims and pay tribute to the first responders and others who served their country in the aftermath of the attacks. The Freshman Day of Service, which is designed to introduce incoming students to their new civic community through service, also kicked off GW's activities in support of the President's Interfaith and Community Service Challenge, an initiative of President Barack Obama's that invites institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus.
"We have a whole generation of students that have become committed to service in honor of the 9/11 attacks," said Dr. Knapp.
Chandler Vilander, a GW freshman and one of about 75 student-athletes who participated in Sunday's service activities, said she hopes that serving on Sept. 11 can help "turn a really tragic event into a positive experience."
"We should all come together and unite to do something good for the community," said Vilander, a women's water polo player and student in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
At Freshmen Convocation, special guest speaker Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, spoke to students about GW's namesake, George Washington, and his dedication to the ideals of interfaith cooperation. President Washington wrote, Mr. Patel said, that all citizens of the new nation would have their identities respected, their freedoms protected, their safety secured and would be encouraged to cultivate good relationships with citizens of other backgrounds. They would be invited and expected to serve.
But George Washington was also a slave owner, Patel reminded students. And sorting out those kinds of conflicting moral situations should be at the center of a university education, he said.
"So here's my message to you," he said. "Be a part of the conversation. But more importantly, be part of the action. Don't forget: The people who talk for a living talk about the people who act-ask big questions, and make big commitments to your faith or philosophy, to the nation and the world. Shape the arc of the future."
Dr. Knapp said while the student body has very diverse religious and moral traditions, "they're all united by values of compassion and by a deep commitment to the principles and values of service."
Dr. Knapp, alongside Diane Robinson Knapp and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, participated in Freshman Day of Service by painting the stars and stripes of an American flag mural at Ketcham Elementary in Anacostia and picking up trash alongside the Anacostia Watershed in Fort Dupont Park, one of the 15 sites where students served Sunday.
"I am impressed by the commitment of GW's freshmen class to take time away from their studies and from watching football on a Sunday to serve Washington, D.C.," said LaHood. "It speaks volumes of their dedication to this community."
Annie Aberle, a GW freshman, said the rewards she reaped from Sunday's service were "amazing."
"It really sets a tone and an example for committing ourselves to service for the next four years and the rest of our lives," said Aberle, a student in Columbian College.
After a Roti-catered dinner where students had the opportunity to reflect on their service, GW held a 9/11 candlelight vigil in University Yard where more than 500 students, faculty and staff gathered to honor the victims of the attack.
"Today marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic events that claimed the lives of over 2,800 people - the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93. On that day our university community lost nine alumni, and we have never ceased to mourn them in the 10 years that have since elapsed," said Dr. Knapp.
During the vigil, Joe Mancinik, a U.S. veteran and GW senior, recounted the timeline of the 9/11 attack.
"At 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later at 9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower. At 9:37 a.m. hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, and at 10:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground in Shanksville, Pa., after the passengers aboard tried to gain control."
As John Richardson, GW Student Association president, read the names of the nine GW alumni who died on 9/11, a candle was lit in their honor and then shared with the rest of the crowd.
"Although the fire at Ground Zero is out and the Pentagon is repaired and people's hearts are beginning to heal, we will never forget what happened that day," Richardson said.