On the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the Center for Leadership and Service hosted a remembrance ceremony in the Human Rights Institute.
The event coincided with the National Day of Service and Remembrance, which was designated a federal holiday in 2009 to pay tribute to all those affected by the attacks.
The ceremony began with a welcome from Caleb Lewis, the executive vice president of the Student Organization, and a rendition of the National Anthem sung by Danielle Thomas, the president of the Kean Gospel Choir. Lewis followed the performance by speaking about the importance of acting with compassion and unity, just as so many did in the face of tragedy on that day in 2001.
“In those moments, we suppressed our various differences, forgot our complex history and set aside our triumphs and disasters to follow our golden rule of loving our neighbor,” Lewis said. “Seventeen years later to the day, as 2018 ends and 2019 quickly approaches and another academic year is upon us, we have been tasked with the very same responsibility — to love our neighbor and to be gracious to all those we come in contact with.”
Mariama Roldan, the campus minister, then took to the podium to give her own opening remarks. She stressed the importance of not only honoring the sadness and tragedy of the day, but also remembering those who met the day’s horrors with bravery and kindness.
“We must remember the courage of those who risked their lives to save others and, in this time, what was important was the human kindness, the empathy and the solidarity that was extended to others,” Roldan said. “These selfless acts of helping our neighbor are what has helped our country to begin to heal.”
Roldan’s speech was followed by remarks from Scott Snowden, the director of the Center for Leadership and Service. Snowden emphasized that as 9/11 begins to be presented as a historical event in schools, it is more important than ever to promote benevolence and tolerance over the hatred that caused the attacks.
“We must make sure that the world does not forget that heroism, courage and selflessness must always prevail over hate and evil — that love and appreciating one another and serving one another is what makes the world a better place,” Snowden said.
Kean University President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., described watching the North Tower in flames from the top of the Elizabeth City Hall and needing to leave because of the overwhelming suffering in the scene.
“To just think of those beautiful lives lost and the diversity of people who got lost: the different religions, the different ethnic groups, the different cultures, and the places they come from,” Farahi said. “It permanently changed us as people in America.”
Farahi also talked about the value of diversity and the need to accept all differences in order to prevent what happened on 9/11 from ever happening again. “America is a beautiful nation, a nation of all different people, a nation that accepts the diversity that we have,” Farahi said. “The younger you are, the more you have no idea how much hatred is in the history of this nation.”
President Farahi then introduced Senator Raymond Lesniak. The senator revealed that he had been in a meeting at the World Trade Center Sept.10, 2001. Lesniak also spoke about how, despite the horrors that day, America’s endurance and spirit never wavered.
“America was shaken, but we were not broken,” Lesniak said. “On Sept. 11, 2001 America didn’t have to become bigger, greater or larger. America demonstrated to the world our unity, our strength and our resolve.”
Senator Lesniak informed the audience that in honor of the National Day of Service and Remembrance, he had set up a community service project which was open to Kean students to prepare lunches and distribute them to the homeless in Newark. He ended his speech with the Ronald Reagan quote, “I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage."
Tierra Hooker, the president of the Poetry Club, and Breanna Hernandez, a silver leader in the Kean Leadership Institute, each performed a poetry reading. Hooker’s piece, written by Michael Lee, was titled Pass On and spoke of both the grief of loss and the idea that nobody ever truly dies. Hernandez’s piece, titled The Names, was written by poet Billy Collins in tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attack.
Next Ashley Buchanan, the alternate student trustee, was given the floor to speak. She read a transcript of a speech given by Michael Bloomberg on the eighth anniversary of 9/11. Sue Figueroa, the managing assistant director for community service and civic engagement at the Center for Leadership and Service, followed Buchanan with a reading of a transcript of a speech given on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and then asked the crowd to join her in a moment of silence. Figueroa then ended the ceremony by inviting everyone to join her on a walk to see Kean’s very own 9/11 memorial, located at the Townsend Hall courtyard.
An American flag was brought to the memorial, which was a gift to the university from a Kean alumnus who was working as a firefighter in New York City on the day of the attacks. It was flown over the Ground Zero site after the tragedy, and since then has only been flown once a year on 9/11 at Kean’s memorial, serving as a testament to the heroism, resolve and unity that America displayed that day.