The morning never sounded as quiet as it did at 10 a.m. this Sept. 11. The usual hum of cicadas seemed to roar as the Cohen Center’s clock tower chimed 10 times last Wednesday. Twelve years and one minute earlier, the fi rst of the Twin Towers had just fallen. Silence fi lled the campus.
About 30 students made their way to the Arts Complex at 9:45 that morning to remember those affected more than a decade ago. Students and faculty of different races and nationalities came together to commemorate those lost with silence and refl ection.
Each brought with them a unique view of the past. Each shared a united hope for the future.
This was the second year that Lynn Neuman, a former New Yorker, now a dance teacher at FGCU, had organized the commemorative Walk for Remembrance. Neuman was in New York City when the World Trade Center fell in 2001. Her apartment was two blocks from the Empire State building, which is two miles north of where the towers stood.
At the time, her daily routine was to teach yoga early in the morning before biking to the gym for a swim. When the fi rst tower was hit, Neuman was in the pool and had no knowledge of the events that were taking place. When she remounted her bicycle and took her usual route home, the only traffi c she saw was southbound emergency vehicles. That was when she knew that something had happened.
“It wasn’t until I got home and found messages from my family on my answering machine that I knew what was occurring,” Neuman said. “I went to the roof of my building and saw the smoke and then turned on my television.”
Neuman said that all New Yorkers have a 9/11 story. It wasn’t until years after the event she realized that people nationwide and internationally have very personal stories about how 9/11 affected them. She said it was a pivotal moment in the history of the nation and in the global community.
“I was working at a local car dealership in Fort Myers when the towers were hit,” said Lidia Hernandez, an administrative assistant at FGCU’s Facilities Planning. “I remember that the show room had all of the TVs showing the planes hitting the towers. I didn’t think it was real. I thought it was a movie trailer, but then someone told me, ‘No, this is real. This is really happening.’”
Hernandez had a specific reason for wanting to be a part of the walk.
“Human lives are valuable,” Hernandez said. “I want to relive it. I want to remember.”
The walk was led in silence. Each student had the chance to lead his or her peers through the campus, choosing destinations as they went. On the actual day of the attack, the public transit system was shut down. Because of this, thousands of professionals were forced to walk miles back to their homes; many discarded their fancy shoes to make the walk more bearable. In honor of these people, some students chose to make their walk through campus barefoot.
Others chose to keep their shoes on but showed support by wearing patriotic colors. The participants walked in two lines to symbolize the two towers. They made their way from the Art Complex to the Library, through the academic core to Edwards Hall, over the boardwalk to Parking Garage 3 and then through the student plaza before returning to the Art Complex. Glances fl ew among the silent when the clock tower chimed at 10:30. Two minutes prior, 12 years earlier, the second tower would have just collapsed, separating thousands of Americans from their families forever.
Not a word was uttered.
Bystanding students had varying reactions. Many of them showed a sense of understanding and respect as if they knew that a very personal journey was taking place. Entire crowds stepped aside to make room on the sidewalk and a couple of students gave a whisper of thanks. Those with longboards changed their course so that the lines could continue to move uninterrupted. No matter where the participants went, a sudden hush fell over the area. One student who participated in the walk both years noticed a change in behavior from those they encountered last year.
“Last year people laughed or just awkwardly stared,” said Maria Kintelao, president of the FGCU Dance Company. “This year they were so respectful. They could have kept going but instead they stopped. Some people even joined us in the moment as we passed by.”.
At the end of the walk, Neuman invited students to stick around and talk about their experience. Many of the students discussed their reasons for coming together. One student was graduate student Christopher Harrison, who came from England.
“I’ve moved around a lot and haven’t had the chance to honor the victims of 9/11 on the actual anniversaries,” Harrison said. “So when the chance came I thought it would be right to attend. It helps to bring a moment of refl ection and realize that the ways that we live, the comforts we have, are often not available to people. They obviously aren’t available to those that lost their lives.”
Neuman plans to organize the same event next year and hopes that the turnout will be even greater.
“This is an opportunity for us to come and be together around an event that impacted and continues to infl uence our lives,” Neuman said. “9/11 is a national day of service, and I hope it makes people ask themselves what it means to be an American. It is a very complex question because everyone here has a story and has a remembrance.”