While tears, tension and observance marked the ninth anniversary of 9/11 around the country on Saturday, the University of Maine honored the date by holding a number of thoughtful and calm events.
This year, the political and contentious atmosphere created by hot-button developments around the nation overshadowed Sept. 11 ceremonies. In New York City, uproarious debate and protest met a proposal for a mosque and community center just two blocks from Ground Zero. In Gainesville, Fla., pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of the Quran, sparking protests across the Middle East and in the United States.
Despite such rifts in the religious and political communities, UMaine students came together Friday and Saturday to commemorate the attacks. Campus Activities and Student Engagement (CASE), a division of Student Affairs, along with the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism, organized two events on campus.
A presentation of the colors was held on Friday, an event that drew a group of more than 40 people to the mall in front of Fogler Library. Amidst a somber ambience and a backdrop of gray sky, onlookers watched as four members of the Navy and Army ROTC marched to the national anthem from Lord Hall to the steps of Fogler Library with the U.S. and Maine state flags.
“Nine years ago, the nature of our core values was tested. Nine years ago, innocent men, women and children died in an attack on our homeland and our way of life,” said Justina Demott, a graduate assistant with CASE, as she addressed the crowd. “We have responded with determination as a community and a country. It is symbolized today by these colors.”
The ceremonies continued Saturday with moments of silence being held on the mall. A similar group gathered to bow their heads in remembrance at 8:46 a.m. to honor the plane that struck the World Trade Center’s north tower. At 9:03 a.m. the plane that struck the south tower, as well as those that crashed into the Pentagon and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, were honored.
One participant, Maj. Jim Karcanes, the enrollment officer for the Army ROTC at the university, spoke about what Sept. 11 means to him.
“9/11 affected my way of life; it meant the first time I would respond to a combat mission. I felt vulnerable and confident in defending our freedom,” he said. “Either way I knew things were going to change. These events are important. Students enjoy freedoms because of what we are doing as a result of 9/11. Commemoration reminds us to never forget and to never take for granted what happened that day.”
In addition to Friday’s ceremonies, the Bodwell Center offered service projects. Students had the opportunity to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to donate to a local food pantry. Also, students handcrafted blank greeting cards to send to service members overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m proud of today’s events. We’ve actually run into a few students who have loved ones overseas, and they’re planning on using the homemade cards to show their support,” said Lisa Morin, a coordinator for the Bodwell Center. Morin also noted that this year’s events were better coordinated than in years past.
Though Friday and Saturday’s events were tranquil, students and staff at the university shared their thoughts on the debate over national events related to Sept. 11. Responses were mixed, but for the most part those questioned seemed to express astonishment and disappointment at the problems created by the recent developments. Tensions over the last month have mounted to a point where President Obama stepped up to remind Americans that we are not at war with Islam.
“It’s really just disappointing what’s happening at Ground Zero. I view those involved in protesting the mosque as discriminating against Islam,” said Ellie Vokes, a fourth-year Human Development student. “If it was any other religion building a holy center at the site, then there wouldn’t be any fuss.”
“It’s really just problematic, there are so many difficult things involved in the debate,” Morin said. “It’s hard to say whether they should build the mosque or not, it seems as though a lot of people involved have made interesting points. It’s a shame all the violence that is taking place across the world as a result.”
While the memory of 9/11 is still a sore subject in American minds, the UMaine community was able to honor it with a showing of peaceful observance.
“We’re proud of the turnout on campus,” Demott said. “Our ceremonies have been a good example and I know they have a special meaning to certain students who are closer to the tragic events than others; we’re glad we ca