Seven tolls of the Sir Christopher Wren Building Bell called members of the College of William and Mary community to gather at sunset Sunday for the College’s Sept. 11 10th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony.
Luminaries displaying handwritten memories of Sept. 11, 2001 lined the entrance to the Wren Courtyard where people collected in somber commemoration of the event that indelibly shaped their lives. Each of the seven tolls represented an alumnus who perished in the terrorist attacks. The names of the deceased echoed through the crowd, followed by messages of recognition, understanding and hope.
“We gather … to remember. To remember, for all else, that it is not death that has brought us here, but love,” Reverend John Kerr, Episcopal campus minister, said.
Kerr spoke to the glassy-eyed crowd to inspire them to honor and appreciate what he called the selfless love of the courageous men and women who sacrificed themselves for their country. His message was that it is the love people give and receive, not their pain, that defines them.
“In their last moments, we heard them choose to reach out to their families and friends with words of encouragement and love,” Kerr said.
Huddled groups of students leaned on one another. The widow and family members of 1st Lt. Todd Weaver ’08, who died in Afghanistan in 2010, sat among the other speakers, there to honor their beloved, fallen soldier.
College President Taylor Reveley spoke about the pain of his personal experience with the terrorist attacks and spoke strongly of the unrelenting character of our alumni and who gave their lives to serve the country.
“It was an utterly terrifying, wholly unimaginable day,” Reveley said. “William and Mary people continue to serve their community in a myriad of ways. I think they always will.”
Reveley commended the courage of College alumni who chose to serve in the armed forces after Sept. 11, 2001 and said they are owed a great debt.
With somber respect, Reveley took his seat, and 17 speakers, including students, professors and Weaver’s family members, approached the microphone to provide quotes of endurance, resilience and healing. Speakers quoted domestic and international political figures, Holocaust survivors and socially-minded celebrities.
“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway,” Joanne M. Braxton, Frances L. and Edwin L Cummings Professor of the Humanities and English said, quoting Mother Teresa.
Braxton and other speakers empowered those who attended the ceremony to move forward everyday without forgetting the grave importance of what the ceremony represented. They dared the audience to be strong and to live fully for those who laid their lives down for them. In 45 minutes, a fragmented group of people became a Tribe again.
Students seemed to be moved by the ceremony.
“It still feels so close to home for me. It was a nice way to remember when I’m so far from home because you don’t have to be from New York or New Jersey to feel it – everyone was affected,” Alex Phillips ’13, a New Jersey native, said.
The service ended as the crowd accompanied the William and Mary choir singing “America the Beautiful.” Friends wiped their eyes and walked home with hands clasped. A young girl — holding an American flag — danced next to her father in the setting summer sun.