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September 16, 2002

9/11 commemoration a touching tribute

By Michael Terrazas

College sophomore Aileen Humphreys might have said it best, standing in front of hundreds of her classmates, professors, administrators and special guests in Glenn Auditorium on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002: “Today is marked to be different—we are forbidden to squeeze our eyes shut on Sept. 10 and tiptoe past the 11th.”

One year after the terrorist attacks that paralyzed America and changed the world, Emory looked back on the emotions of 9/11 with a series of events that culminated in a University Gathering held Sept. 11 in Glenn, followed by a candlelight vigil on the Quadrangle.

But the day started early. At 8:46 a.m., precisely one year to the minute after the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center, a crowd gathered on the Quad in front of the Administration Building to say a prayer for the eight members of the Emory community who lost their lives on 9/11.

After the victims’ names were read, a moment of silence was held for 10 minutes as bells tolled from Cox Hall. At 8:46, the crowd had numbered only a few dozen, but by the time the bells were done tolling shortly after 9, it had swelled to more than a hundred, with more arriving each minute.

The morning’s ceremony was brief and poignant, but the evening events of Sept. 11 took time to allow several of the faiths represented on campus to make pleas in their own traditions for love, forgiveness, healing and peace. Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the Chapel and Religious Life, called the Gathering to order and introduced Emory College acting Dean Bobby Paul, who spoke of “shared humanness” as his theme.

“A familiar case [of shared humanness] is after a blizzard or a hurricane,” Paul said, “when neighbors who normally don’t bother to visit or exchange more than a perfunctory greeting feel genuinely friendly to each other, help each other, and sometimes perform heroic acts of service or rescue for strangers—who at that moment do not seem strange at all, but as fellow sufferers in need.”

President Bill Chace recalled a very similar event almost exactly one year previous, when a University community feeling shocked and helpless gathered in Glenn to find solace in each other. “We return gratefully to this same shelter today,” Chace said. “In the last year, we have learned much about ourselves and our country; we have learned much about the world beyond our shores; and we have tested the resilience, a collective resilience, on which we now know we must depend.”

Over the next 90 minutes, the crowd of several hundred in Glenn listened to prayers and blessings from all the world’s major faiths—Christ-ianity (both Protestant and Catholic), Judaism, Baha’i, Hindu, Islam, Sikh—each delivered by Emory students, several speaking or chanting in the prayers’ native Arabic or Sanskrit. Buddhist faith also was represented by five Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Institute.

Sandwiched in between the interfaith messages was an address by Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology, who spoke of his quite personal connection to 9/11 and the innately human capacity to endure that manifested in him, his family and the entire country after that day (see First Person).

Amid the prayer, song and dance that surrounded Duke’s address, a special guest made her appearance. Emily Saliers, a 1985 graduate of the college and half of the Indigo Girls, strapped on her acoustic guitar and sang “On Deliverance” as a song of blessing.

By the time the Gathering was completed, night had fallen and the crowd began a procession toward the Quad. By themselves, those who had been present in Glenn would have constituted a sizable vigil, but as they climbed the steps adjacent to the Carlos Museum, the crowd heard music and emerged onto the Quad to find a second assemblage, one already numbering more than a thousand, sitting and standing on the grass in front of the Administration Building.

About 30 local law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel stood at attention on the building’s steps, as Student Government Association President Christopher Richardson moderated a service that featured more music, including a stirring rendition of “Total Praise” by gospel choir Voices of Inner Strength, whose name belied the outer strength that carried their song above the Quad and into the night air as the crowd lit its candles.

When Religious Life’s Myron McGhee brought his guitar to the front of the steps and began to play, the scene was illuminated with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of candles, a sea of candleholders sitting cross-legged on the grass as hundreds more formed a standing gallery around them. McGhee softly strummed his guitar and sang, the candles glowed, and for one night Emory commemorated a terrible act of violence by embracing a hope for peace.

9/11 stories/photos:

Hefner examines Islamic culture

McGruder on post-9/11 freedom of speech

Photos from 9/11

ER's 9/11 home page