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September 16, 2013

ODU Commemorates Sept. 11 Anniversary with Unique Events

feature1-lgDoctoral students Felicia Grey, of Jamaica, and Maurizio Geri, of Italy, chat during the GPIS luncheon.
feature1-lgBAs a silent, tangible reminder, small American flags were placed on the grass ringing the ODU seal on Kaufman Mall for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
By Jon Cawley

As many across the nation attended annual commemorations of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a pair of unique events at Old Dominion University brought together students and faculty for conversations intended to build community cohesion.

In a lead-up to the 12th anniversary of the attacks, President John R. Broderick expressed his sentiments regarding the university's focus in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

"The tragedy changed America profoundly, but the day's official name - day of service - is a testament to the legacy that will prevail," he wrote. "The inspiring acts of so many on that day, and the days and years following, serve as the guide for how we can best remember the 2,977 victims.

"So as you go through your day, honor the victims and heroes by offering help to a classmate, volunteering, or serving your community in some way," Broderick continued. "No matter how big or small, make a difference. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, 'In a gentle way, you can shake the world.'"

On Wednesday afternoon, the ODU Graduate Program in International Studies (GPIS) held a potluck luncheon as it has for the past five years. The gathering drew about 30 students and faculty, many of whom brought favorite dishes from their home countries to share.

"This is what GPIS is all about," said Regina Karp, the director of international studies programs at ODU. "Even with tragic events like (Sept. 11), there has to be something positive."

On Sept. 11, 2001, coordinated terrorist attacks using commercial airliners killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field where a passenger uprising aboard one of the planes forced a crash.

In comments Karp made to the group, which included students and faculty from the United States and countries as far flung as Italy, the Ukraine, Jamaica, Sweden, Nepal and Afghanistan, she noted that despite the "horrible loss of life that affected the country and many families very deeply," the real legacy of 9/11 is one of conciliation.

"This is perhaps one of the most meaningful things we do because there are barriers in the world - not just natural barriers, but barriers of gender, of culture, of identity. And for an hour, maybe an hour and a half today, we can set all that aside and we can mingle with the things we enjoy most, which are food and each other's company," she said. "Enjoy yourself - take some of everything and you will be amazed at how well all these things go together. And that is probably the GPIS legacy."

As the Model United Nations meeting room buzzed with overlapping conversations, Ph.D. students Maurizio Geri, of Italy, and Felicia Grey, of Jamaica, shared an animated chat as they ate. Geri said conversation is more relaxed when combined with a meal.

"It's like a sacred thing," he said. "When we share a meal, we open our hearts. Conversation is the basis. The most important thing is to overcome mistrust. Today, we demonstrate that different cultures can share together. If we know each other, we can solve the conflicts."

Khatera Alizada, a Ph.D. student from Afghanistan, said she thought the GPIS event was significant because it is different from other commemorations.

"We eat and we share food and I think that makes the event very special," she said. "Even though we come from different cultures, we still have some things in common. We can spend time together and that is more reconciliatory, I think."

In addition to the GPIS event, a panel of students commemorated the events of Sept. 11 at Webb Center by sharing personal memories of the attacks.

Sponsored by the university's Student Veterans Association (SVA), College Republicans and ODU Young Democrats, the event offered panelists an opportunity to speak about how Sept. 11 affected their lives.

Young Democrats president Justin McLawhorn was in second grade when the attacks took place, and vividly recalled the fear he felt the days and weeks thereafter.

"Our parents tried to make sense of it all, but it was hard for us to understand as children," McLawhorn said. "When we weren't busy shedding tears, we were trying to understand what the attacks meant to us."

Although the memories of the attacks still moved some in the audience to tears, everyone who spoke said they looked forward to making America a better place, and remembered with fondness how Americans came together after the attacks.

"Unity is what I want most for America," said Tara Chang, a College Republicans representative on the panel. "I want us to go forward remembering that day and coming together to make America a stronger nation again."

Event organizer Marc Loi, an Army veteran and public affairs officer for ODU SVA, added that it shouldn't be just on days of tragedy that Americans come together.

"It seems we come together after each tragedy only to begin fighting again as soon as the wounds heal and the hurt subsides," Loi said. "It's time that we truly come together as a people. We learned from the 9/11 attacks that we have real enemies - your fellow Americans who may not share your same values and beliefs aren't your enemies."

As a silent, tangible reminder, small American flags were placed on the grass ringing the ODU seal on Kaufman Mall for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.