Georgianna Hall was not alive on Sept. 11, 2001, but joining her fellow Troy University students in observing Saturday’s 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks helped to put the events of the horrific day in perspective.
Hall was among the more than 90 students who took part in a ceremony of the reading of the names of those who lost their lives that day as hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. The somber but meaningful event took place in front of John R. Lewis Hall on the Troy Campus and was presented by the Student Government Association and the Freshman Forum.
“I wasn’t born at the time the 9/11 attacks took place, but it was important to me to be able to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in this way,” said Hall, a freshman from Tuscaloosa. “As I was reading, I was thinking, ‘this was someone’s dad, this was someone’s brother, this person was special to someone in their life,’ and I had the honor to be able to acknowledge them on this day in this way.”
Barbara Patterson, Director of Student Involvement, said the students stepped up to take ownership of the event as a way to pay tribute to those that were lost on that day.
“We wanted to remember the victims of 9/11 and it was a project that the SGA and Freshman Forum wanted to take on,” Patterson said. “I think our students do have a deep sense of patriotism. I think they come to TROY with that sense and I think TROY helps to instill or deepen that sense of patriotism. I think any time we can give students the opportunity to show patriotism in a real and meaningful way, it is a great learning experience for them. For me, personally, I hope that the reading of the names gives students who weren’t even born when 9/11 happened a real sense of the tragedy and the loss that day, and that they can take pride in the fact that they were a part of a historic moment at the University in commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.”
Patterson remembers the day vividly. At that time her office was located on the first floor of the Trojan Student Center, adjacent to the food court. Students began to come into her office and ask if they were aware of what was going on. The staff crowded around a small tv in the office before venturing into the food court to view on the big tv screens.
“We watched as the second plane hit the tower, and we watched as the towers collapsed,” she recalls. The rest of the day was spent watching in disbelief the constant news coverage.
Patterson said an SGA blood drive had already been on the calendar for the next day, but when they arrived to set up, they weren’t prepared for what they saw.
“Of course, Americans wanted to do something to help, but really didn’t know what to do,” she said. “When we got here to set up for the blood drive, we had people lined up all down the hallway and down the steps. No one was prepared for the response. We had no idea that instead of 200 people showing up we would have over 1,000 to show up. We just did our very best to accommodate the crowds.”
Johnny Giles was having breakfast with some friends when he saw the news of the attacks. On Saturday, he watched as his daughter, Maddie, joined fellow students in reading the names of the dead.
“Just sitting and listening to the names being read made me realize how many families were hurt by these attacks,” he said. “Sometimes when it’s not happening in your circle of influence, we just think of another number but to a lot of families on that day it was a lot more than that.”
Maddie Giles, a freshman from Clanton, felt a sense of honor in the opportunity to pay tribute to the fallen.
“It puts things in perspective. We got to know the exact names of those who lost their lives on 9/11, and it truly is an honor to read those names,” she said.
Betsy Bennett, a freshman from Eufaula, said it was particularly moving to participant in the event on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.
“I think it is very important since this is the 20th anniversary and it is important to remember all those who were lost on that day,” Bennett said. “We don’t generally think about specific people during these times, but rather we think about the big events. It makes us realize these were actually people and not just numbers.”
Still, for others, Saturday’s memorial put in perspective the international scope of the tragic events and even took on a personal meaning.
“My grandfather was in the army in India, and I know how my family felt when he went abroad and they didn’t know what was happening,” said Mithzi Bharucha, SGA Senator representing International Programs. “I feel like that was the same situation for a lot of people on that day because they didn’t know what was happening and, for the longest period of time, they did not know if their family was ok or if the people they knew in these places were going to be ok. I feel like reading these names is a way to demonstrate that we are always going to remember them and to let the families know that we are always going to be there for them no matter what.”
Janice Hawkins, First Lady of Troy University, read the final names during Saturday’s memorial event and recalled the personal significance the attacks have for her.
“There are some days and events that happen that will live on forever, and 9/11 was one of those events,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “Most of you here probably weren’t born, but for those of us who were, we woke up this morning thinking about where we were, what we were doing and remembering so many of the stories that we read about or heard about. We became a part of those families because the news was constantly talking about someone who was yet to be found but was hoped to be alive. We became part of that grieving for all of those people.”
Seeing the towers of the World Trade Center collapse on that day was a heartwrenching moment for Mrs. Hawkins.
“It was particularly poignant for me because I grew up in and around New York City, and I watched, as a child, those towers be built out of the swamp land,” she said. “I think it is very appropriate that Alabama’s International University would read these names. Those weren’t just names of Americans. Those were names of people from all over the world. This was an international attack on humanity and on our country.”
Marcelles Martin, a sophomore international politics major from Atlanta, said Saturday’s event was an important way to carry on the legacy of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.
“Whenever tragedy strikes, people are going to come together. I think it is nice seeing students, who were not even born or were a baby like I was, come together and put forth the effort to remember those who lost their lives on 9/11 and to continue on their legacy of being patriotic Americans,” he said. “Twenty years later, we are still remembering those who lost their lives and those who sacrificed their lives trying to save others. When an act of evil occurs, it is imperative that good morality steps in. Good is always going to trump the evil that happens.”
Earlier on Saturday morning, Troy University ROTC cadets were joined by local first responders in a stadium run at Riddle-Pace Field to commemorate the 110 flights of stairs first responders climbed in the World Trade Center towers in an effort to rescue survivors. In addition, the 20th anniversary was commemorated during the University’s Military Appreciation Game on Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. First responders joined active duty military and veterans, parading across the field during a special patriotic-themed halftime show by the Sound of the South Marching Band.