A Somber Remembrance – GSB Honors The 20th Anniversary of 9/11

As our nation commemorates the 20th anniversary of the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, our Gill St. Bernard’s community came together to honor the day in a variety of special ways.

In the Upper School, students, faculty, and staff gathered in Founders’ Quad for a ceremony that began with students ringing the chapel bells at 8:46 a.m., the time the World Trade Center’s North Tower was struck. During the flag ceremony, students unfurled the flag, raised it, then lowered it to half-mast in honor of the loss of life suffered that day.

Next, Upper School Director Joel Coleman welcomed the gathered GSB community members and shared his moving remarks:

“We have just heard the bell that marks the first loss of life on September 11th, 2001, and the first of the events we remember today. You heard it toll twenty times for the twenty years since that day. You have watched your classmates unfurl the flag and raise it to full staff—quickly to show our country’s resilience and diligence—then lower it to half-staff slowly to show that we mourn those that our nation lost. You raise the flag to raise up one of the only symbols that stands for each and all of us in America, just as row upon row of flags lined city and town streets, country roads and solitary porches twenty years ago. Just as row upon row of congress members lined the steps of the US Capitol at the end of that terrible day to sing God Bless America in unison. Together.”

Then Dr. Coleman shared the story of his nephew, the son of two firefighters, who joined the Marines shortly after the attacks of September 11th. While valiantly serving his country, this young man suffered injuries. Recently, he scrambled to save his translator and helped him secure a flight to flee Afghanistan. This act, noted Dr. Coleman, made an incredible difference to that one man. He continued:

“So perhaps that is how we can think about numbers. Not in the thousands, but in twos and threes. The two men who carried a colleague in her wheelchair down 68 floors of the World Trade Center. The three men who decided to fight back on Flight 93 to save the U.S. Capitol from destruction. The two of you comforting a friend who is mourning the loss of a family member to Covid. The three of you helping a classmate clean up after flooding. One of us recognizing a need and filling it, realizing that our hands are strong enough to carry that person’s burden, to carry that sea star to the shore because, like the stars on this flag, and like us here at Gill, they achieve their greatest purpose when they are together in a sea of blue. That is my wish today for all of us and for our families—that we can remember and mourn and grow together today.”

A moment of silence was then observed until the last of 20 bells tolled, one ring for each year since that fateful day. Bells also sounded at 9:03 a.m., when the South Tower was struck, 9:37 a.m. for the Pentagon attack, and 10:03 a.m. for the plane crash in Shanksville, Pa.

Upper School students who participated in the ceremony include: Kellyn Bucceri '22, Joe Howard '23, Andrew Vollrath '23, Cassidy Moore '25, Aysha Penafiel '24, Patrick Penafiel '25, Ben Spinowitz '25, and Tyler Tellalian '23.

In the Middle School, students were invited to participate in the moment of silence signaled by the bells. Then throughout the day, MS history teachers discussed the remembrance in a developmentally appropriate manner within their classrooms. Lower School teachers, particularly for fourth grade, responded to student questions and comments in an age-appropriate manner, as well.

Lower and Middle School Director Kyle Armstrong noted the importance of marking such a solemn anniversary. “Remembrance and memorial are important for students to recognize events and people who have come before them,” he said. “History shapes our present, and a memorial remembrance helps students gain an understanding of the nature of the world today. 9/11 is also an important opportunity for students to recognize and support first responders and everyday heroes.”

This evening, GSB Performing Arts Students were invited to gather at the Performing Arts & Community Center for a special remembrance and to watch the Broadway musical, Come from Away. The show, set in the week following the September 11th attacks, tells the true story about the 38 planes that were forced to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The musical highlights the capacity for human compassion during the darkest days and shows how humanity triumphs over hatred.

Across campus, many remember exactly where they were the moment they learned that our country had been attacked that beautiful September day two decades ago. Head of School Sid Rowell offered the following personal reflection, followed by thoughts from Upper School Learning Specialist TarynAnn Barry Zampino ’05, who was a GSB student at the time.

Head of School Sid Rowell:

I had just finished speaking with some of our families at a Parent's Association Meeting in Evans Hall when I first heard that something had happened at the World Trade Center. 2001 was my first year as Head of School, and I distinctly remember cell phones beginning to go off in the crowd. There was a lot of initial confusion as no one really knew what was going on. Information was hard to come by, at least initially. After it became clear what had occurred, our administrative team met and we cancelled all after school activities and allowed families to pick up their children early if they had any concerns.

The most remarkable thing for the GSB community was that there were no alumni or current parents at the time who perished in the attacks. To this day I'm both thankful for how fortunate we were and saddened by the terrible loss of life in this senseless tragedy. It is incredibly important that we take time each year to honor the courageous first responders who sacrificed everything to help those in danger that day, and all who lost their lives.

Upper School Learning Specialist TarynAnn Barry Zampino '05:

I remember 9/11/01 vividly. It was the most gorgeous, calm September day—think last Thursday after the storm. I was a freshman and had Comparative World Cultures first period in Chapin. That morning we were outside in the courtyard talking about the interconnectedness of the world and nature. We were pretty much hugging a tree; I’m fairly certain we were holding hands around a tree considering how long it had been there. It was a surreal and hopeful morning.

Next up was Geometry, and in the middle of class a junior boy burst in and alerted us that the Twin Towers had been attacked. Parents started calling students out of class because their other parent had been headed into the WTC for work that day. In retrospect, it was terrifying, but the teachers did what they could to calm the situation and make us feel safe. We huddled in the media room and watched the coverage until someone was able to pick us up from school.

I’m not sure if we had school the next day, but when we did return, we started with an assembly in the chapel. I believe this is when we learned everyone from GSB had made it out safely, and there was a message of calm. I’m not exactly sure what was said, but it felt safe, and we were made to feel like things were going to be okay. I think Gill—Peter Schmidt at the time, and Sid Rowell to this day—is good, and even in a time of crisis, we got through it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, because we felt safe, I’m not sure we really understood the magnitude of what happened. It was scary going to war and feeling like we’d be attacked at any moment; however, because the school has always been tolerant, the loud national charge for “Freedom Fries,” isolationism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric were quietly dismissed. Instead, we were taught to be compassionate, to empathize, and to seek to understand the world around us. The “heart of the school,” if you will, is what brought me back as an adult, and I think Gill lived that truth and showed that heart in the face of enormous strife 20 years ago.

We invite you to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website to learn more about how you can commemorate the 20th anniversary of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 Attacks, as well as those who risked their lives to save others and demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath of the attacks.

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