On a cloudless morning with the San Miguel Fire & Rescue’s massive 70-foot flag serving as a backdrop, the Cuyamaca College campus community and East County firefighters gathered Friday for an early commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“This day is about being resilient,” said Maryam Rammahi, Associated Student Government president, one of five speakers and two musicians featured at the event. The remembrance honored the sacrifices made and the lives lost in the tragedy 20 years ago.
A ringing of a bell, a trumpet call of taps and a minute of silence led by college President Julianna Barnes also marked the fateful day when two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City and two other commandeered planes crashed – one into the Pentagon and another into a field in Shanksville, Pa. The 2,977 flags inserted into the lawn by student government members and others each represented a victim slain in the 9/11 attacks.
Rammahi, born a few months after the tragic day, conceded it is difficult for young students like herself to understand when others speak of 9/11 as a defining moment for an entire generation.
“Still, it is because of the brave veterans and the countless heroes that came out of that day and wrote about it, gave speeches, and recalled their experience who make sure that the generations that follow don’t forget what happened at 8:46 a.m. on Spt. 11, 2001,” she said.
Rammahi reflected that what separates us from the chaos is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.
“That, above all else, is what brings us together,” she said.
Barnes spoke in a similar vein about students too young to recall the horrors of the day.
“As I watched students place flags this week, I was awed with the realization that many of them are too young to remember – or perhaps weren’t even born,” Barnes said. “Yet, they still solemnly placed the flags and helped to plan today’s ceremony.”
Cuyamaca College alumnus Allan Estrada, a post-9/11 combat veteran, also spoke, describing his time in the Army and suffering a traumatic brain injury from an IED explosion during a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.
“As a young soldier I did not understand what phrases such as ‘thank you for your service,’ or ‘your sacrifice’ meant,” said Estrada, who now works at the college’s Veterans Center, helping student veterans. “It took years after the end of my service to understand the meaning.”
Estrada asked those in attendance to remember the American lives lost on Sept. 11, and the service members, interpreters, allies, and NATO partners all killed.
Estrada, 32, whose wife, Adriana, enlisted in the Army a year ago, also took the opportunity to thank Cuyamaca College and its community of administrators, faculty, staff and students.
“This campus has been life-changing for myself and many other veterans,” he said. “It has blessed me with meeting my wife who is now serving and has honored me with the privilege of working for and supporting my fellow veterans.”
San Miguel Fire & Rescue Capt. Jack Grogger also highlighted the New York City firefighters who climbed more than 80 floors, risking their lives to rescue civilians and contain the fires. Chaplain George Helewa, also from San Miguel, noted that the first certified death at Ground Zero was a fire chaplain ministering to a dying firefighter when a falling piece of debris struck and killed him.
“One thing 9/11 has taught us, and that most tragedies teach us, is that light shines brightest in darkness,” he said. “It takes faith to see that the worst of things brings out the best in all of us.”