When Shirley Strum Kenny assumed the office of university president in 1994, she could never imagine counting the construction of a memorial to the victims of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil among her accomplishments.
She described the process of trying to ease the senses of fear and despondency that gripped the campus as “one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in my life.” In all, 21 university alumni died on Sept. 11; biology and economics majors, political science majors, graduates from the 1970s and graduates from the 1990s were among them.
“We couldn’t memorialize everyone who died,” Kenny said. “But we felt we had a special debt to these alumni.”
Originally planned as a grove of 21 trees to be planted near the Union, the memorial came to fruition in 2005 as a 12-foot-by 8-foot brass arch constructed in a grove near the Humanities building. Designed by Milton Glaser, the designer who created both the university’s and the “I Love N.Y.” logos, and Nicholas Fasciano, a Long Island-based designer and artist, the monument was created over a period of six months.
“I was honored, significantly honored,” Fasciano said, recounting when he was asked to help make Glaser’s design a reality. The two had worked together before, creating pieces such as a time capsule exhibit for the Smithsonian Institute and an art piece for the nearly century-old New York City eatery “Russ & Daughters.”
The design incorporates multiple motifs, such as vines, which according to Fasciano symbolize renewal and growth. The measurements of the twin towers holding up the arch mirror the proportions of the actual buildings. Brass was chosen as a building material because of its durability, affordability and tendency to change color to “verdigris,” the distinctive color of monuments such as the Statue of Liberty.
“The design symbolizes what our hopes were in those hopeless times,” Kenny said.
Kenny said that there was no commission to choose artists or designers for the memorial, and that Glaser, who was a consulting designer for the university at the time, chose to come up with the arch design himself. According to Fasciano, who was involved with the design phase of the memorial, no other designs were considered.
However, the memorial cost $100,000 to create, which was raised by private donors and the university’s alumni association, led by the group’s then-president, Joe Campolo. Although Campolo said he did not know any of the victims personally, he explained that the construction of a memorial for the fallen “just seemed like a logical thing to do.” Campolo would go on to say that leading the fundraising drive for the memorial was the “proudest thing I’d done as the president of the Alumni Association.”
On each anniversary since the attacks, the arch is used as the focal point of vigils, memorial services and processions in which the names of those memorialized are read. A number of the victims’ family members make the trip to the memorial grove, as the area is called, each year. Although 10 years have passed since that fateful day in 2001, Kenny said that she hopes the memorial will continue to symbolize hope and growth for years to come.
“We just strived for the best way to honor these people,” Kenny said.