Eighteen years to the minute that the North Tower was struck on Sept. 11, 2001, the Academic Mall fell hush to the tolls of campus bells, which rang 21 times to honor the 21 Stony Brook alumni and community members who were lost during the attack on U.S. soil.
The Stony Brook University Alumni Association hosted a memorial service on campus to honor the dead, outside the east side of the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library on Wednesday. Volunteers encouraged passing students and staff to plant a pinwheel decorated with the American flag in a patch of grass outlined by the organizers. Two permanent memorials for the 21 victims reside on campus: a memorial arch donated by the Alumni Association near the Humanities building and the trees planted in the Student Activities Center courtyard in honor of the victims.
As junior biochemistry major Halyna Sabadakh placed her pinwheel in the ground, she wiped tears from her eyes as she remembered a family friend who died on Sept. 11.
“He was one of the first responders that came to the scene,” she said. “This day is always something that I hold true to my heart, and during certain times — like [at] 8:45 and 9:03 when the planes hit — during that one minute, I really like have to walk out of class and take a moment to myself.”
Sabadakh, who is still close with the family of the friend who died, said that she tries to remember that he was saving lives.
“So yes, of course, he passed away, but I know he passed away for the good of the people,” she said.
Janet Masini, associate director of Alumni Relations and one of the event’s coordinators, feels that the annual memorial has an impact on campus and the student body.
“The memorial garden just turns into this beautiful display that we think reminds everyone to take that minute and stop and remember, and then when it’s done, it’s beautiful and it continues to be this memorial,” she said.
Linda Unger, senior instructional designer for the Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching, also planted a pinwheel at the memorial. Her husband lost two colleagues on the day of the attacks and other colleagues later passed away from diseases related to the incident, she said.
Unger’s husband, who worked as a law enforcement chaplain for four months to tend to the emotional needs of first responders, also developed diseases from the attack that still persist to this day.
“In a wider sense, this is probably the single most impactful event of this generation,” she said.
William Jimenez, another coordinator of the event, was at the World Trade Center two weeks before the Sept. 11 attack with his aunt, who worked in one of the towers. Fortunately, his aunt took off the day of the attacks.
“It’s still a somber sight, just seeing where the towers were,” he said. “I was there two weeks before it happened; being there and then seeing the devastation, [I thought] ‘What happened?’ ‘Who would do this?’ ‘Why would you do this?’”
Jimenez believes that the memorial reminds students that were born after the attack — or those who were too young to remember it — of its significance. Most incoming freshmen this year were born in 2001.
Freshman information system major, Eram Alam, who stopped to place a pinwheel, was just over a month old when the attack occurred. Alam’s cousin, who worked in the World Trade Center, was thankfully late for work that day.
“It’s important not to become desensitized to all the assemblies and moments of silences, and continue to respect the people who are lost because it is such a tragedy,” Alam said.
Teaching the next generations what happened, he added, is the best way to honor those who died.
“Even if you were born five years ago, I think we should still teach our children, teach the next generation that this happened, so that we can respect those who died, and those who gave their lives to help, and also so we can prevent this from ever happening again,” he said.