Just more than 18 years after a devastating terrorist attack left the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in ruins and nearly 3,000 innocent victims dead, Americans face a new challenge of preserving the memory of those lost lives and communicating the impact of that day to a generation that has no memory of those events.
Fortunately, Santa Barbarans across the city have stepped up to honor the fallen and make sure we never forget them — whether you are 75 or 15.
In an inspiring display of selflessness, students at Bishop Garcia Diego and San Marcos High Schools rallied and organized memorials for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
At San Marcos High School, the student government came up with their own unique way to honor the victims and first responders with their first 9/11 Stadium Remembrance Walk at Warkentin Stadium.
Around 9:45 a.m., more than 400 students began walking up and down the stadium’s 34 steps. Students could walk six laps, or 12, which is the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center, roughly 20 steps per floor. The event was voluntary, but almost all students participated. Students walked up and down in to honor both those that lost their lives running down to escape and those who died running up to save them.
Firemen from local Station 13 also attended, speaking with students and letting them try on equipment.
Teacher, coach and activities coordinator Aaron Solis told the News-Press he was inspired by other remembrance walks he saw around the country, and worked with the student government to organize the event. The event is a great way for students to be involved in a way that goes beyond simple facts, said Mr. Solis.
“It’s 18 years now, the vast majority of our students weren’t even born, and those that were, they were only a couple months old at the most. I was telling them at the beginning; it’s difficult as teachers to teach the emotions of that day,” Mr. Solis said. “We can teach the facts and what happened and all that. It’s difficult for us to teach how we felt. You know, even by our own experiences, but just the country, how we felt as a country. The sorrow, the grief, the acts of heroism, the patriotism we felt afterwards. That’s a difficult thing to teach, so despite how difficult it is to teach it’s important for us to try and do it and get them to remember so it’s not forgotten.”
President of the Associated Student Body at San Marcos, Andy Nguyen, helped organize the event just two weeks ago. A frequent participant in events for Veterans and Memorial Days, Mr. Nguyen wanted to show that young Americans can still step up and carry on the memory of 9/11.
“I want to dispel the myth that students, just because we didn’t experience it, doesn’t mean we can’t remember and respect it,” said Mr. Nguyen.
Earlier in the day at Bishop High School, a dozen students and faculty arrived just before the crack of dawn at 6 a.m. and set about placing mini-American flags in the campus’s quad to represent each life tragically taken at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in the thwarted attack over Pennsylvania. As the students carefully placed the flags, teachers reminded them that each flag represents a person that died, and so each one deserves their space.
The students were inspired by the work done by Paige Maho, a 2017 Dos Pueblos graduate who began the practice of honoring 9/11 victims with flags at her school back in 2016 with the help of the Young America’s Foundation. Ms. Maho’s triplet brothers are now juniors at Bishop, and decided they wanted to work with YAF to continue their sister’s mission.
The memorial demonstrated the way those that remember 9/11 can share their experience and reverence with the next generation, said Tyrone Mahon, who helped organize the event with his wife and sons.
“All the students weren’t alive in 2001, if you’re in high school. So as a result it’s important to keep the memory alive and to talk about it, talk about what this day means. It’s history but it’s recent history, and everyone here, their parents should remember and will tell their kids. Having it at school, I think, is a great opportunity to teach the lessons of 9/11,” said Mr. Mahon.
The school then gathered at 11:20 a.m. for a moment of silence and prayer and an address from Bishop teacher Grace Thorstad, a recent hire at the school and a Navy veteran, who was also out early in the morning to place flags.
“A lot of these folks weren’t even born when 9/11 happened, and we obviously want to move the memory forward of those that lost their lives,” Ms. Thorstad told the News-Press,
“Both in the senseless acts of violence, people who were just going to work like any other normal day, and then the people who consequently went in to save them after the tragedies happened.
“We just want to make sure that doesn’t get forgotten as the years go by.”
In her address to the school, Ms. Thorstad explained the incredible ways America came together in the face of tragedy, and charged the students to carry on that legacy of resilience.
“The generations who lived during or came after September 11, 2001, will always remember those who sacrificed their lives in support of their country and its people. We will forever remember the men and women who were taken far too soon as they started what they
assumed would be just another day on the job or another day traveling to or from home.
“We will forever remember that freedom is never free, and that it must be cherished and safeguarded from those who would take it from us,” said Ms. Thorstad.