The McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at Duquesne University has a unique partnership with the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York City. There, we send two Journalism and Multimedia Arts students to participate in their summer internship program each year.
Since tomorrow marks the 14 year anniversary of the horrible events on 9/11/01, here is a glimpse into the story of Sara Speedy and Jen Liedl, two Master’s of Media Arts and Technology students here in the College.
This summer I was extremely lucky to spend the month of June working as an intern for the September 11th Families Association in New York City. When the chair of the Journalism and Multimedia Arts Department, Dr. Dillon, asked me if I would be interested in working in New York this summer, I didn’t hesitate when I said “yes.” I was excited to start this next adventure.
The September 11th Families Association welcomed Jen Liedl and I with open arms, excited to share their knowledge with us and welcome us into their workplace. I was given a list of projects I’d be working on over the summer and some daily tasks. I was lucky enough to get to spend time getting to know the staff and volunteers of the Tribute Center while filming events and programs throughout the month. I filmed the weekly program “We Were There,” the story telling program, “The Moth,” and I photographed quite a few events such as the teacher’s workshop and a benefit both held by the Families Association and Tribute Center. I spent the majority of my time creating, filming and editing a video for the crew of the U.S.S New York. The ship, adopted by the Tribute Center, is made with seven tons of steel from the Twin Towers. On September 11th this year, the video will be aired on the ship thanking its crewmembers for their sacrifice and service.
The September 11th Families Association strives to preserve the memory of September 11, 2001 and educate those who did not experience it. This internship was about much more than videography. It was unlike any job I’ve done before. It was emotional, rewarding, and heartbreaking consecutively. I wasn’t just taking photographs of a teacher’s workshop. I was photographing a teacher as she broke out in tears as she told the room she had students who lost a parent that day. I filmed as she vowed that she would work towards improving the education of 9/11.
I had the honor to meet a volunteer who flies into New York once a month from her home in Boston to give a tour of the 9/11 Tribute Center and ground zero. She shares her story in honor of her husband who left her a final voicemail minutes before his plane struck one of the Twin Towers.
I watched as a volunteer told her story at “The Moth,” telling us about her friend and coworker who lost his life on 9/11 because he refused to leave the side of his wheelchair bound friend who couldn’t make it down the Tower’s crowded staircase.
I filmed as a fireman told his story of working on the site during the recovery process. He, along with many others, spent days looking through rubble hoping to find a single survivor. He told us when the site grew silent; he knew another fallen brother or sister was discovered. The site went silent to salute them.
Each of these stories was as important and powerful as the next. They were full of terror, tears, love, and sometimes joy. These stories, however, always end with a bit of hope. They are shared to spread knowledge, to educate, to make our world a better place. Visitors from all over the world left messages of hope, unity, peace, and thanks on the visitor cards available inside the Tribute Center’s gallery.
New York City is a city of perseverance, strength and resilience. Their firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, doctors and nurses are second to none…Ordinary people showed their strength and hearts of gold on September 11, 2001. On this day, and the days, weeks and years that followed, a city, a nation and a world came together.
The Tribute Center, located in lower Manhattan, is run by people who experienced the tragedy of 9/11 firsthand. Volunteers speak and run guided tours of the Center as well as the memorials. They tell their personal stories to visitors throughout the tours, in “We Were There” presentations and during The Moth workshops (workshops for storytelling). Some of the volunteers are firefighters, some are police officers, construction workers, recovery workers and others who were close loved ones of the victims of that day.
Personally, I come from a firefighter family. My dad is a volunteer firefighter in the area where I grew up. I know what it is like to have my loved ones leave at a moment’s notice to go on a call. Regardless of the time of day or night, they go with no questions asked. So, I understand the feeling of not knowing what the future may hold for them when they respond. With that being said, during my time working for the Tribute Center, two peoples’ stories made me cry. I cried for them and the pain that they had been through, and I cried because I thought of how easily my dad could suffer the same fate.
One story that really touched me was told by a woman whose father was a firefighter. She began by saying that once she heard the news of the attacks she knew that her father would be one of the many who would respond. As she told her story, I could feel the tears in my eyes beginning to form. She concluded her story by saying, “I know that the first step to recovering is to acknowledge that something happened… so this is in memory of my father, Captain – -, New York City firefighter”. At this point, I began to cry uncontrollably. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what she and many others had to go through; that sadness reached my heart. She had to go through something that no one should ever have to experience – an unfair death of a loved one.
After I retreated to the restroom to attempt to regain control over my emotions, a woman, who I have never met before, gave me a hug and I lost control again. She gave me a pat on the back and told me, “I know, it’s hard to listen to these stories. It’s so hard”.
How could someone that I’ve never met before be so comforting and supportive? I believe that in that moment, I experienced a piece of New Yorkers’ caring and supportive nature. When they’re faced with tragedy, they bond together and help in any way that they can. When I was in a time of need, this woman helped me – sure, it wasn’t a big sign, it was just a simple hug to let me know that she was there.
This is what people did every day after September 11, 2001. New York, the nation and the world came together to help, big or small. New Yorkers and all of those affected by the attacks are some of the strongest people that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. This is in memory of all of the victims of the attacks and all of the service men and women that were lost that day. You will never be forgotten.