Campus to commemorate 9/11 Sunday

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Two men walking toward the sun at the 9/11 memorial at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Photo by Kevin Wexler/MCT

By Josh Hayter

An airplane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Black smoke billows into the blue, New York City skyline.

Chaos. Confusion.

Another airplane bombards the South Tower of the trading complex.

Shock. Fear. Anger. 

Both towers crumble to the ground in a cloud of dust.

Sheer terror reigned.

Americans watched in horror as thousands fled the storm of concrete and steel. The towers no longer stood. For a moment, all was still. All was silent.

But the moment was brief. Images of soot-covered survivors emerging from the smoke united people across the globe. Behind the cloud, beneath the debris, lay thousands of people who had begun the day much like any other day – but they would never make it home.

And America would never be the same.

Those images live on in Americans’ minds as the 10th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil approaches Sunday. On that day, MSU will hold a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. in Sunwatcher Plaza to pay tribute to those people who lost their lives on 9/11/2001, and to honor those who bravely put their lives on the line.

Dr. Ruth Morrow, professor of music, wants to be sure MSU students, staff and faculty have the chance to reflect on the tragedy. Morrow came up with the idea for the event, but let the Department of Student Development and Orientation take the reigns for planning it.

“I wanted to make sure that we, as a community, had an opportunity to remember,” she said.

At the ceremony, the MSU community will be given the opportunity to look back on the past, look toward the future, and contemplate moving forward in society as one nation – one America.

9/11 was a defining moment in the history of the United States. Whatever your age, you probably remember where you were and what you were doing that Tuesday morning. Many people, however, were unable to recognize the enormity of it at the time.

People died. Teachers wept. Parents picked their children up early from school. It wasn’t until these children grew older that they began to grasp the reality of what happened. But for the ones who did understand, it was a defining moment in their lives.

Wayne Schields, assistant director of housing, remembers the day vividly.

“I was greeted by the sound of confusion blaring from my clock radio – something about a plane having just hit a building in New York,” he recalled. “I turned on the TV just in time to watch the second plane hit the other tower. I thought I was watching a replay of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center.”

Realizing that it was, in fact, a second plane, Schields sat on the edge of his coffee table and stared at the TV in disbelief.

“I immediately began to think about whether or not I was ready to die. It happened that fast for me,” he said. “I knew our country was being attacked – my life would never be the same again.”

Like many Americans that day, Schields questioned God. He remembers worrying that there might be another attack. He thought about his fiancé, his friends and his family as he “searched for meaning in a meaningless act of terror.”

For MSU freshman Jesse Mercado, 9/11 hit closer to home. So close that he heard the first plane hit.

“The first thing I remember is hearing the boom,” Mercado recalled.

He could see the World Trade Center from the Manhattan apartment he lived in with his family. “I could see it outside my window,” he recalled. “It was just right there.”

At 8 years old, Mercado wasn’t aware of the magnitude of that day’s events. But growing up in New York City, he came to understand. And with both his mom and dad joining the New York Police Department in 2004, it’s never left his thoughts.

“You can’t make it through a Sept. 11 without remembering. You can’t even get past 9 o’clock and 11 minutes,” he said. “It’s such a huge thing.” Ten years and two wars later, we’re able to see just how huge it was and still is.

Ramon Rios, a senior social work major, was a 20-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army when he heard the news.

“It looked like a movie to me,” Rios said.

He called his dad, who worked with the district attorney in New York City at the time.

“He was already at ground zero cleaning up and trying to help people out,” he said. “It was a disaster – just craziness.”

As Rios convoyed through Baghdad three years later, he realized, for the first time, just how crazy it was. 9/11 altered his life forever. He spent 18 months in Iraq where he said his whole world changed.

“The first day we were there, we were getting hit,” Rios said. “Everything I believed in got turned upside down. 9/11 was the start of something that’s still going on. We’ve still got countries fighting each other and trying to get their freedom.”

“It’s important to not just remember for the people who have died, but (also) for the people who actually survived,” Rios said. “It’s part of our history. We remember because it’s just something you don’t forget.”

Michael Mills, director of housing, was a 21-year-old junior marketing major at MSU and vice president of the Student Government Association at the time. As he walked through Clark Student Center to his next class, he noticed students had gathered around a TV.

The first plane had hit.

Once in class, his professor turned the TV on and they saw the second plane hit. Then they watched the first tower fall.

“Everybody just sat there literally watching in silence,” Mills said. “It was mind boggling to see because we never thought about that happening here.”

When the very freedom Americans stood for came under fire, the country rose from the ashes. In the days and weeks after the attacks, rescuers and volunteers worked day and night to rescue survivors.

Americans from every walk of life joined together in pursuit of justice and peace. The American flag was raised proudly on nearly every street corner. Citizens rushed to the American Red Cross to donate blood. The country remained strong and united as one nation.

Mills spoke at MSU’s 9/11 memorial one year later. He said approximately 600 people gathered at The Quad to remember the tragedy.

“You never can take tomorrow for granted. You’re not promised anything. And just as quickly as it happened, it can, unfortunately, happen again,” Mills said. “It’s important for us to remember not only this as an important day in our nation’s history, but also that we need to take advantage of our time here because you never know what can happen tomorrow.”

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