POTSDAM - The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 are more history than memory for this year's college freshmen. They were in kindergarten and first grade when the strikes against New York City and Washington D.C. killed thousands.
St. Lawrence County colleges endeavoured to keep the memory of the attacks alive Wednesday, with ceremonies at Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University.
A crowd gathered around Clarkson's World Trade Center Memorial Sculpture Wednesday morning, joined by representatives from the Air Force and Army ROTC, to continue an annual tradition.
The memorial was built in 2011 using steel from the 55th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower.
It includes the names of Peter A. Klein, Paul R. Hughes, Richard J. O'Connor and R. Mark Rasweiler, four Clarkson alumni who died in the attack.
Another Clarkson alum, Michael A. Bielawa, was working at a New York City construction site on that day when the news came.
Within a day he was at Ground Zero, assisting cleanup efforts by acting as a go-between for the government and the many contractors working to clear away the wreckage.
“It was not a textbook construction site. Every day was a new challenge,” he said. “I was just trying to make a little bit of order in the chaos and the mayhem.”
The emotional toll of working amidst the death and destruction did not make his task any easier. His work was filled with constant reminders of the attack, and when he returned home and turned on the TV he was greeted with stories of the individuals who had died in the towers.
He described the months following the attack as “an emotional roller coaster.”
He now lives in New Jersey, working as a construction manager for Land Lease Construction LMB Inc.
Speaking to the crowd gathered at Clarkson Wednesday morning, he urged everyone not to forget the lives that were lost.
“There are 2,749 stories that could be told that day,” he said.
Few students attended the ceremony.
Kelly Chezum, vice president for external relations, reminded those gathered that the 9/11 attacks happened when most incoming students were still small children.
“Most of the class of 2017, who unpacked their bags and began their first college courses just a few weeks ago, were in their kindergarten or first-grade classes the morning of Sept. 11. They may very well represent the last of the students who will attend this ceremony and remember where they were that day,” she said, urging everyone to remind younger generations of the importance of the occasion.
Meanwhile, at St. Lawrence University, 2,996 small American flags fluttered where they had been planted in the campus quad, one for each person who died in the attacks.
They had been placed there by almost 20 students just before midnight Sept. 10.
Five of the flags had names next to them. Robert J. Coll, Catherine Gorayeb, Christopher Morrison, Michael A. Pelletier and Richard H. Stewart Jr. were all St. Lawrence University students who died in the attacks.
The SLU Republicans started the flag-planting tradition several years ago. This year they were joined by the SLU Democrats and SLU Students for Liberty for the first time.
The students returned to remove the flags at midnight Wednesday.