A smaller and quieter commemoration on campus marked the anniversary of the September 11 attacks this year.
While the University held a day-long name reading in Kogan Plaza, several panel discussions and a candlelight vigil last year, Thursday’s events only included a vigil and a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m.
Prior to the start of Thursday’s vigil, students clustered in small groups around the University Yard talking and laughing, but as ROTC color guard members marched before the stage and presented the United States flag to the audience, faces grew solemn.
Organizers distributed about 600 candles to the crowd, most of which were gone at the end of the program, said Student Association President Kris Hart. Last year about 1,000 people attended the vigil.
The vigil, which lasted about an hour, included speeches from Hart; His Excellency Hatem Atallah, ambassador to Tunisia; University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and President of the Muslim Students Association Omar Matadar.
Atallah, a friend of Trachtenberg’s, addressed the question of brotherhood among all people during his brief talk.
He also said Tunisians felt Americans’ grief two years ago. Tunisia, an Arab country in northern Africa, has dealt with extremists in the past.
“We looked at the tragedy and felt its pain because we have been there,” he said.
Some students bowed their heads in prayer as Hart led a moment of silence, and others leaned on friends for support.
“I walked through Kogan Plaza, (which was) filled with lost, scared students looking for comfort and hoping for reason” said Hart of his actions on Sept. 11, 2001. “Find comfort (in the fact) that we have each other.”
Matadar told gatherers a story about a prophet of Islam who, upon standing in respect for a funeral procession of a Jewish man, was asked why he stood. The fable ended with the auspicious phrase “Is he not our brother?” – a question GW students said was present in their hearts and minds as they stood with their peers. As the first chords of “America the Beautiful” were sung near the end of the ceremony by members of the GW Vibes, faces glowed in the candlelight. The color guard proceeded to carry the flag away, but no one moved. After several minutes of quiet reflection, some sat on the yard with friends while others began talking about their astronomy and Spanish homework.
Some students said a vigil is not enough to remember the lives lost.
“Keeping up the support throughout the year through charity (is a good way) to always remember this day,” freshman Robin Wood said.
But officials said even small gatherings such as GW’s vigil have a lasting impact.
“Simple memorials are … personal, quiet statements of remembrance, sorrow and personal loss. But also, I believe, statements of hope … and in that there is strength,” Trachtenberg said.
-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.