By Rachel Jankowski, Young America's Foundation Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar
How does your school commemorate the 2,977 lives lost on the most tragic day in American history—September 11, 2001?
I attend the ever-politically correct University of Michigan which prides itself on diversity and “social justice.” Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, our student government decided to host a candlelight vigil for the “victims of 9/11.” Students arrived in a somber state ready to remember all those who had lost their lives. Instead, they were lectured on the hardships Muslims faced in the aftermath of the attacks. Rather than focusing on the victims and their families, it became a forum for minorities to discuss the discrimination and persecution they have faced in the United States over the past ten years. It did not take long for people to realize this was a program for social advocacy, not remembrance.
For a university that lost 18 alumni because of this horrendous act of terrorism, did this memorialize them?
Luckily, students had an alternative to this completely disrespectful ceremony. Young America’s Foundation helped me bring the 9/11: Never Forget Project to campus. Early in the morning, conservative students helped place 2,977 hand-held American flags in the ground at the center of campus. Each flag represented one person who was murdered by radical Islamists on the morning of September 11. Young America’s Foundation provided us with bumper stickers and buttons that said “9/11: Never Forget,” as well as Constitutions to hand out to students. We also collected donations for the troops, who diligently serve to defend freedom and fight terrorism throughout the world. This event is truly something I will never forget, and many on my campus never will either.
Throughout the day, students came and paid their respects. The most common question was what all the flags represented. When I told them each flag represented a person, it became real. The visual representation was too much; there were just so many flags. That could have been their best friend or a parent. For some, it was. All were in shock. Several had tears in their eyes. Some people left mementos—a cap with a flag on it, or a bouquet of roses. A few even left the names of those loved ones they had lost next to flags to ensure they were not forgotten. And, for that brief moment in the busy hustle of Ann Arbor, at this temporary memorial in the heart of the most hectic place on campus, students would stop and reflect.
One man came up and humbly thanked me for holding the event. He had been in one of the World Trade Centers on that fateful day in 2001. He was a survivor and happy to see that the memory of those who died still lived on.
We did not advertise the event as being put on by the conservative club because this event, much like the attacks, struck everyone regardless of any human division. We were all Americans united. If anyone asked who sponsored it, we would tell them. Many said it was the first time they ever supported a conservative event. With the help of the ROTC, we were able to collect hundreds of dollars in donations for the troops.
The most touching part of the event occurred at the end of the night. After the disappointing “commemorative vigil,” many vigil attendees asked if the flag memorial and vigil were connected. We quickly responded no, explaining our event was to honor those who lost their lives because of the vicious acts of terrorism on September 11. The response was tremendous and made me incredibly proud to be an American. The vigil attendees proceeded to stand around the flag display and hold a separate moment of silence for the 2,977 innocent lives killed on September 11, 2001. Afterwards, everyone worked together to respectfully pick up the flags. It showed the power a horrific event can have in bringing out the best in people.
So now I ask you—how will you honor those who lost their lives on that September day?
Join schools throughout the country already participating in the 9/11: Never Forget Project and honor those who lost their lives in a memorial they deserve. Sign up now and contact Pat Coyle at (800) USA-1776 to bring this extraordinary event to your campus.
Rachel Jankowski is a Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar