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September 17, 2001

Thousands come together by candlelight

By Eric Rangus


A crowd of more than 2,000 faculty, staff and students journeyed to the Quad in noisy groups, some as large as the floor of a residence hall, last Wednesday night at 9 p.m. They packed themselves shoulder to shoulder dozens of feet deep in front of Candler Library and, almost as soon as Student Government Association (SGA) President Anna Manasco stepped to the microphone, the diverse faces and voices in the crowd became one.

“We gather to think about the unthinkable, to attempt to explain the inexplicable, and to mourn what seems like the unbearable,” said Manasco, explaining the difficult emotions floating across the crowd, which had come together for a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington the previous morning.

The vigil was coordinated with just a few hours’ notice by SGA and led by the efforts of Manasco; SGA Vice President Josh Bornstein; Chris Long, SGA special activities coordinator; Lindsay Warren, SGA vice president for student life; and Adrian Tonge, SGA coordinator for community affairs. The Office of Religious Life provided candles.

“Strengthened by each other, refreshed by our togetherness, we gather here tonight to do our little to expunge intolerance, divisiveness, and hatred from the human race and from the world,” Manasco continued. “We gather here tonight to reflect on the lives of the innocent, the efforts of the rescuers, the pain of the affected and the shock to the country.”

Dressed solemnly in her vestments, Dean of the Chapel Susan Henry-Crowe delivered a prayer she had written after reading the prayer cards she received at the previous afternoon’s campuswide service at Glenn Auditorium.

“Day is done, only shadows remain,” she said. “We call to the one whose word is good. The one who protects and says, ‘Morning will come, though it still be night.’ Hear our prayer and grant redemption.”

Following Henry-Crowe’s brief words and a performance by Emory’s gospel choir Voices of Inner Strength, around two dozen students stepped individually to the microphone to share their thoughts.

One told of his high school best friend—an intern at the World Trade Center—who was missing.

Thomas Stokes, a sophomore from Brooklyn, related his panic when he couldn’t reach members of his family shortly after the attack. Then he expressed his feeling of relief upon finally reaching them and discovering they were fine.

Talk of understanding was widespread, perhaps no more so than in the words of freshman Robby Rahin. As Islamic student from LaGrange, he feared retribution against people of his faith—many of them American-born, many more of them freedom-loving, and the overwhelming majority disgusted by the acts of a tiny sliver of zealots. He’d heard whispers about Arabs and Arab-Americans and read some unpleasant Learnlink posts, he said.

Rahin’s final statement, “Just remember: An eye for an eye makes us all blind,” hung in the air as he descended the Candler Library steps.

Patriotism, an all-too-often overbearing and misplaced emotion, was dealt out in sober and calmly appropriate measures. One student passed out 150 handheld American flags. Glances up at the Quad’s flag, rippling gently at half mast, were accompanied by silent reverence.

Red, white and blue ribbons were available for donations. Proceeds from the ribbons, at $1,500 before the ceremony, surely crossed the $2,000 mark before the night was over, as each of the four tables set up in the Quad corners received a steady stream of money throughout. All the dollars collected will go the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

After a group singing of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” spontaneity took over. First, the crowd sang “Amazing Grace,” then “God Bless America.” “We Shall Overcome” and the national anthem followed shortly thereafter.

At 10:10 p.m., the formal portion of the ceremony concluded. Close to 200 students spontaneously gathered around the Quad flagpole, placing their candles in a ring—a band of gold flickering in the light evening breeze.

Students huddled in twos and threes, holding hands; some sobbed quietly. Other students sat by themselves, some resting their heads in their hands, some absorbing the moment in quiet contemplation.

After a while, as the crowd drifted away and the bright candle glow washed out the Quad’s ever-present evening shadows, all that could be heard was the shuffle of sandals and the crackling of the crickets.

The next morning, a few candles could be seen still burning under the flag.


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