Twelve years after the tragedies of September 11th, 2001, the world, America, and Milken have changed a lot. Since the day that claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people, America has been in two wars, has begun to climb out of a global economic recession, and has witnessed 5 countries overthrown in the Arab world.
But as the years pass, and the number of Milken students that are too young to remember the emotion and shock of 9/11 increases and 9/11 becomes a part of our nation’s history, rather than a tragedy of this generation, how can Milken help students stay emotionally attached to one of the most important days of the year?
Given the age of most current high schoolers, the majority of Milken is too young to have memories of the events of 9/11 as they transpired. Only members of faculty have distinct memories of 9/11 and the meaning of the events.
For Upper School Principal, Dr. Roger Fuller, 9/11 seemed at first like “some kind of science fiction movie, and then it suddenly became dauntingly real.” It became even more real when administrators gathered at Milken, listening to the radio to get the news and deciding how the school would respond.
Administrators decided that the school day would go on, believing that school was the safest environment for students at the time. A town meeting took place where the student body was informed about the what was happening in New York.
In a precedent-setting decision, Milken embraced the responsibility to help take care of the community during a crisis like 9/11. Because Milken stepped up and took charge in 2001, they have the responsibility, as an institution, to step up each year on 9/11 to educate the student body. To do otherwise would set a double-standard that would undermine the integrity of the decision to have school on September 11th, 2001.
Part of our school’s responsibility is to run meaningful, educational programming and ceremonies that commemorate the lives lost on 9/11 by victims and first responders to Ground Zero. Milken must provide students with a community forum in which to acknowledge and commemorate the tragic day. In the past, Milken has had town meetings and school assemblies where there were name reading ceremonies or educational programs.
Over the last two years, however, Milken administration and student leadership in charge of planning the ceremonies has begun to move away from the traditional ceremony and more towards original educational programming. The thought process behind the switch in policy was the need for a more engaging, inclusive commemoration. Planners agreed that the general Town Meeting environment was not suited for 9/11.
The move away from the usual Town Meeting started with Student Body President, Ami Fields-Meyer ‘12. He planned an innovative Town Meeting for the 10th anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11.
“I remember staying up late the night before the town meeting putting stickers with the names of 9/11 victims on yellow wristbands, then passing them out to students the next day as they walked into the assembly,” Fields-Meyer said, “We also read the names of about a hundred victims, and had students raise their arms when they heard the name on their own wrist. At the end of the assembly, Jonah Lavin stood up behind everyone and played ‘Taps’ on the saxophone.”
Fields-Meyer wanted only to reform the 9/11 Town Meeting commemoration system. Now, members of student government and Milken administration seek to abandon the whole idea of having the commemoration ceremony take place during a Town Meeting. This year, we observed the national day of mourning with an announcement on the loudspeaker and a schoolwide moment of silence, followed by a 9/11-themed advisory activity.
According to Ms. Ann Whiting, Director of Student Life, “The conversation that began last year in administration and with students was that they felt that, not that 9/11 is not important to mark as an occasion in our school day and school life, but that devoting an entire town meeting to a memorial type program really didn’t fit the need of our community.”
While a valid opinion, a more recent poll of a number students said otherwise. Many students, when informally asked about the commemoration ceremony on the loud speaker this year, said that the method of commemorating the tragedy did not suit their needs, contrary to Whiting’s belief.
Furthermore, the program designed for this year’s commemoration of the 9/11 tragedies was not executed as well as designed, due to schedule snafus and a disregard by students and faculty. A fair number of students said either that they did not feel any attachment to the program or that their advisories did not even do the program designed by Whiting. The senior class, having had a class meeting on 9/11 and minyan on the twelfth, did not do the program at all.
Overall, the changes were created with good intentions, but Milken administration, faculty, and student government should rethink the changes and discuss reverting to a Town Meeting format for commemorating 9/11.