Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001 ... never forget

A flag flies over a firetruck on MVCC's Utica Campus during the "Tribute to 9/11" event on September 1.

Like most Americans older than our current college freshmen, I remember exactly where I was at 9:00 a.m. on September 11, 2001.  I was in my office and my assistant said, “Hey, did you hear a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?” In disbelief, we thought it was a terrible accident. Then, three minutes later she shouted, “Another plane crashed into the other tower.” Even though we lived in Omaha, Nebraska, everything closed down by noon, and I remember, like most everyone, being glued to the television all afternoon and well into the night – knowing the world had changed, but changed in ways unknown to us at the time.
Exterior aluminum sheathing from the World Trade Center is on display as part of the "New York Remembers" exhibit on MVCC's Utica campus.

Those memories have become even more vivid for me as the 10th anniversary of the attacks arrives.  MVCC is fortunate to have our Utica Campus selected as one of 30 sites around New York state to host a 9/11 exhibit of artifacts from that tragic day. The six artifacts, which include a piece of glass from one of the towers, a fragment of one of the airplanes that struck the buildings, and a piece of aluminum from the center’s fa├žade, is on view from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday in the lobby of the IT Building through the end of September. Every time I’m in that building, I have to pause and reflect – it’s powerful to have such an exhibit right here on one of our campuses.

Lt. Mickey Kross (Retired) of the New York Fire Department speaks during the "Tribute to 9/11" event in MVCC's IT Theater on September 1.

 Beyond the exhibit, we were also able to host a program by the Maynard Fire Department that allowed our community to connect with the memory of the attacks in a more personal way. The packed theater on our Utica Campus allowed the 450 or so people in attendance to hear from two heroes who were at the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001.  Lt. Mickey Kross (Retired) of the New York Fire Department shared his story of helping people from the burning wreckage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the building suddenly collapsed, trapping Kross, the firefighters, a police officer and an office secretary under tons of debris in Stairwell B. Miraculously, all were able to escape. It’s one thing to watch videos and see photographs of the devastation of that day on television and online, but it’s another to hear a first-hand account from a true hero.

Staff Sergeant Kevin Hughes, USMC, speaks during the "Tribute to 9/11" event in MVCC's IT Theater on September 1.

We were also joined that night by another hero and MVCC alumnus, Staff Sergeant Kevin Hughes, USMC. Hughes, who was a Wall Street investment banker and tank commander in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, was in his Deutsche Bank office in the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the attacks. He not only got out of the buildings safely, but was among the first U.S. troops to enter Iraq at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, where he conducted combat operations securing areas up to and including the Presidential Palace in Baghdad. The humility of these men and their courageous stories reinforced for me the magnitude of the attacks and the wars that have followed since.

Hughes and Kross lay a wreathe at the September 11 Memorial on the Parkway in Utica, across the street from MVCC.

In these challenging economic times, it’s easy to take an isolationist perspective – focus on ourselves and let the rest of the world deal with itself. I believe an even more aggressive approach to understand our world, and our place in it, is what’s necessary.  The 9/11 exhibit and activities of the past few weeks have reinforced the significance of MVCC’s commitment to diversity and a global view through our DGV graduation requirements and our increasing commitment to international education. Expanding our own understanding of our world through education and experience is one of the best long-term defenses against ever having an attack such as September 11, 2001, happen again. As Asst. Chief Jared A. Pearl, of the Marcy Fire Department, said just before introducing 11-year-old bagpiper, David Nicola, to close the ceremony, “never forget…we must never forget.”

This bench was crafted by members of the Welders Among Communities club at MVCC as a memorial to the first responders and victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It is on display in MVCC's IT Lobby until the end of the month.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.