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Memorial day
photo of students on September 11, 2002
One year later, another gathering

The 3,000 or so students, faculty, and staff who assembled at noon on September 11, 2002, overflowed the banks of the O'Neill Plaza and spilled out over the road and up onto the porch of Gasson and down toward Devlin on the south. A year earlier a similarly sized crowd had assembled with an hour's notice beneath a bright blue sky. This year the notice was on the Web and campus posters for a week ahead of time, the sky was overcast, and there were fewer tears, fewer students with arms draped over each other's shoulders, and no solitary figures standing away from the outer edges of the crowd, speaking quietly into cell phones. This year a white canvas "Wall of Remembrance" the size of a schoolbus stood beside the wood stage on the plaza, the names of 22 alumni and two parents written on it with black marker in columns at each edge.

Fr. Leahy spoke, and so did two chaplains. In brief, they asked us to move from mourning to rededication. A student who'd been chosen to speak seemed to want to say something similar but drifted as he went along, as though he couldn't find certainty in his own heart. The Voices of Imani gospel choir sang, and so did the BC Chorale, and Kate Leavey's crystalline soprano soared on "This Is My Song" and made people at the back of the crowd stand on tiptoe to see who it was down there in front of the library singing like that. Then students representing five religious traditions spoke or chanted their prayers for peace and for the dead. It was the chants in foreign tongues—Hindi, Hebrew, and Arabic—that captured me. The words were unalike but the music was the same, a seesawing cry that seemed to rise and fall and rise and fall like it was trying to will itself to get somewhere it couldn't get. Afterward, the names of the 24 murder victims were read by students. That's when the weeping started. A few minutes later "Amazing Grace" brought the program to an end, and students went down to the Wall of Remembrance and began writing their thoughts in the white space between the two black columns of names.

The wall was filled with writing in six hours, and was taken down a few days later, but I had a chance to read it in photographs posted on the Campus Ministry Web site. Most of the writing modeled the now-familiar religious, social, and political formulas of 9/11 inscription: "God be with you," "We'll never forget," and "Let's roll." Two things, though, surprised me as I read. The first was the dozen or so alumni who had made the trek back to campus to take up a marker and recall their lost classmates. The second was the many non-alumni who turned up on the Boston College wall because they had been known to, and were remembered by, Boston College's students: "MDH—I love and miss you, Superman. Lisa." "Alex F. Ciccone. You are always in our hearts." "In loving memory of Sgt. Robert M. Kaulfers, Port Authority. You will always be in our hearts. Kathleen DeLuca." "Andy Kim we all miss you. You made such an impact on so many lives. We will remember you. Eric Joo '06." "Ron Vauk—we love you and miss you. Kirsten." "RIP Doc, BB, TR + PK. You will be in my heart forever. Melissa '06." "Joseph DiPilato, Staten Island. We will never forget you!" "Amanda and Joe. Our prayers are always with you." "Mr. Corcoran—the others. We will never forget. Norwell and Suzanne." "Xavier H.S. New York. Patty Dowdell, Sr." "Mr. Gregory. Ramsay, New Jersey. You will be missed. Philip Chiang." "In loving memory of Richard B. Ross. We will never forget you." "Alex Steinman. Well remembered one year later. Lawson and Jason and Denise and MG loved you." "Hey Joe, we miss and love you. Chris is fine. I'll take care of him for you. Your '2nd son' John." And so on.

Ben Birnbaum

Photo: O'Neill Plaza on September 11, 2002. By Lee Pellegrini

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