TOMS RIVER – Never Forget. Two words that mean a lot to those who were directly touched by the events of September 11, 2001. That doesn’t mean however, that those who weren’t born at the time can’t understand the depth of what happened that terrible day.
Two days prior to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, administrators, instructors and students of Ocean County College joined attendees under a tent to remember those of Ocean County, and beyond, who died that day.
Among those who spoke as the rain came down at the Campus Mall were OCC President Dr. Jon Larson, Assistant Dean Carolyn Showalter, and English instructor Ameer Sohrawardy.
Student singer Alfred Parchment sang the national anthem while 63rd Army National Guard Band Warrant Officer One Zachary Appleton and First Sgt. Kencis Kleinschmidt performed “God Bless America.”
Showalter said “we are gathered together today for three reasons, to remember those individuals whose lives were lost on 9/11/2001, to be thankful for the 20,000 individuals who were able to escape the carnage, and to teach the young people born since 2001 about the events on 9/11.”
In respect to the third reason, the work of Josephine O’Grady, Alessia Odato and MaryKate Naples, the winners of the 9-11 Student Writing Competition were showcased during the ceremony.
O’Grady had interviewed a New York City resident who witnessed the horror of the World Trade Tower buildings coming down. “This was a contest sponsored by the Office of Student Life and the English Department of OCC. It was a collaboration writing contest. I was told about it by Dr. Sohrawardy who organized it. I was one of his students.”
“I won the non-fiction category. I asked a person who lived in Manhattan who saw it all from her apartment window. It was interesting. Interviewing someone who actually saw it made me realize that in terms of recovering from it, it was a whole different experience for people who lived in New York,” O’Grady said.
The Bay Head resident added that “in terms of the landscape their entire world was being turned upside down. It messes with you mentally and emotionally and psychologically as well. You see it right in your face.”
O’Grady learned she was among the winners in June after her graduation. She is a student at Kean University as a public health major and wants to pursue public policy in graduate school. “Now I understand the attacks with a new depth.”
Student MaryKate Naples was in 5th grade when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. She wrote a touching and strong worded composition about losing her father who worked in New York City.
In her absence, her composition was read by Soharawardy. “Unlike our other two winners of the competition. She was alive and had personal recall of the events of 9/11. Her work was entitled “1618.’”
“There was no hiding from 9/11 it was everywhere and effected everyone,” she wrote. Her paper added that “no one was surprised by the actions (of her father) that morning. Every day he took care of the people around him including strangers or even a hitchhiker. He was the kind of dad who would turn everything into a lesson. He was a humble man and if something needed to be taken care of, he was usually ruthless about it. He ran almost 20 city blocks to the towers as everyone else ran for their lives.”
She wrote that her father forced his way into the building and convinced the chief into letting him into the lobby. The chief called him the elevator man and he did whatever he could to free the people who were trapped in the most complex elevator system at the time.
Naples learned months later, in January 2002 that her father was truly gone when his remains were found. Her writing added a strong call for the U.S. government to release information about an FBI investigation concerning links to Saudi Arabia funding the terrorist effort. “Now I find our government is indeed hiding something.”
While Odato’s composition concerned a fictional story of a young couple planning their wedding around the time of 9/11, the impact of her story was felt by the audience. The story concerned the death of a man who told his fiancé who also worked at the WTC, to stay home that day and take a day off to focus on the planning of their wedding. He went to work and died as a result of the attack.
The names of those Ocean County residents who died on 9/11 were read toward the close of the event. The 63rd Army National Guard concluded the ceremony with a performance of “Amazing Grace.”