How do you move on?

photo by Matthew Merritt ('14)

How do you pick up and go on after a day like September 11? Even 10 years after the event, it feels strange to move on, as if by moving on we somehow leave the memory behind. Yet we have to go on. I don’t know how to follow last week’s blog.  Anything I write seems lame. But as a father might gently lift his child from a precipitous perch to the safer, firmer earth, it feels right to go gently. So today, for one more day, others will reflect.

After I posted last week, I heard from Be the Changer Levar Stoney (’00). Levar wrote:

I was a sophomore resident adviser in Ikenberry Hall. I can remember waking up for classes and my suite mates telling me that a plane had flown into one of the twin towers in New York. I initially thought it was just an accident until I watched the second plane fly into one of the towers. I remember thinking this wasn’t a coincidence, and then I heard the TV broadcasters agreeing.

When you’re on campus in Harrisonburg you always feel a tad bit isolated from outside events. That day though, I felt like just about everything stopped, or it started going in slow motion. I remember only going to one class. Ironically, it was a course on global politics. We sat and talked about what was going on in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. We were dismissed early, and I remember this eerie empty feeling walking through the Commons. I was a part of SGA, and this was supposed to be election day. Usually the Commons would be bustling with people. As I walked by one of the polling tables, I recall folks telling me not many folks were voting. A lot of folks rightfully had their minds elsewhere.

Another alumnus Rob Beaton (’00) was working in the World Trade Center. Undoubtedly, he was one for whom friends were searching. He posted his thoughts in a comment to the blog.

I had been out of JMU for only a few months, having walked across the stage of the Convocation Center during my graduation in December of 2000. By August of 2001, I was working in the World Trade Center. I had landed an amazing job with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield on the 28th floor of WTC. Most people had a pretty good idea of where my office was — it was pretty easy to spot with the big antenna on top of it.

On September 11, 2001, everyone in the entire world knew exactly where my office was, and they were all watching in horror. I had been sitting at my desk when the first plane hit my building. I have replayed the day’s events in my head countless times over the last ten years, and I have shared my firsthand perspective of my escape with countless people. Yet, it is always fascinating to hear other people’s accounts from that day since everyone has their own unique point of view. It is especially fascinating to read stories from JMU students about how those events impacted the campus. After all, I was barely out of JMU at the time — it felt as if I had just stepped off the Quad and straight into the center of the most significant historical event of our time.

Before that day, the corporate hierarchy in my company was quite clear and rather intimidating. On September 11, all hierarchy vanished as we were instantly united in our common cause. During our escape from the tower, I crossed paths with one woman who was part of the company’s elite upper management team. We were suddenly on the same playing field despite our mismatched corporate ranking. Slipping on the wet floors of the World Trade Center mall, we linked our arms together to help each other make our way to safety. There was even unity on the streets. Never before in New York City — a notoriously unfriendly city — could you approach a complete stranger to strike up conversation, ask for directions, or have a shoulder to lean on. Amidst the mayhem, a greater power truly prevailed.

Last night on the Quad, students gathered to commemorate September 11, 2001, as they have done every year since the event. SGA President Pat Watral (‘12) opened the program and President Rose offered thoughts. Like so many initiatives at JMU, this remembrance was student-driven and student-run. Nick Langridge (’00) who is now assistant to Dr. Rose, remembered how students rose up in response to 9.11.  Kemper Funkhouser (’02, ’10M) and Kevin Warner (’02) organized the first ceremony of remembrance. It has occurred every year since.

Tom Culligan (’05), who works on Capital Hill handling terrorism issues, spoke to hundreds of students gathered under a threatening sky last night. He recalled that he had been on campus for only a few weeks when he woke to the jarring experience. He remembers crowding around a 20-inch television in Ashby Hall. “As we tried to make sense of it all, one tower fell, then the second, then the Pentagon. It felt as though our world was collapsing.”  So many students were from Northern Virginia, he said, but with only email and telephones — no cell phones or Facebook or Twitter then — “all we heard were busy signals…. The joy of orientation had suddenly evaporated…..I still remember how still the campus was.”

Except for the wind and singular voices struggling to be heard in its midst, the Quad was quiet last night. Even a chant U-S-A couldn’t catch hold. Students seemed to want to reflect, and perhaps that is the best acknowledgment of shared sorrow. I invite any of you to add your own thoughts here as comments to be archived along with those of others who remember the day.

And then we move on.

To see some of JMU’s 10-year remembrance, visit the Breeze’s video coverage here:

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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