On the last weekend before 9/11, Ryan Punzalan and his uncle Hector sang a spirited duet of “Build Me Up Buttercup.”
“My uncle loved music, and he was big on karaoke,” said Punzalan, then a fifth-grader and now a junior studying journalism at Northeastern University. “He kept telling me that we were going to sing in the future.”
But the boy from Queens, New York, and his uncle, who moved to the United States from the Philippines in his mid-20s, never shared another song.
On the blue-skied morning of September 11, 2001, uncle Hector, a civil engineer, had been summoned to the South Tower of the World Trade Center for a last-minute meeting. At 9:03 a.m., five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the building, killing Hector and more than 1,000 other victims.
Punzalan was among approximately 50 members of the Northeastern community who gathered in the Sacred Space on Tuesday afternoon to observe the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and honor those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.
“I’m here to remember my uncle,” Punzalan said solemly.
The service featured a reading of the names of the 12 Northeastern students and alumni who died in the attacks, including students Donald DiTullio, of University College (now the College of Professional Studies) and Candace Lee Williams of the College of Business Administration (now the D’Amore-McKim School of Business); and alumni Anna S. (Williams) Allison, MBA’81, David W. Bernard, BA’68, Jeffrey W. Coombs, UC’92, Peter A. Gay, E’69, Andrew Curry Green, MBA’98, Peter B. Hanson, AS’91, John C. Henwood, BA’89, Herbert W. Homer, LA’76, Mark S. Jardim, BA’85 and Natalie Janis Lasden, UC’84, MBA’97.
Alexander Levering Kern, the executive director of Northeastern’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, welcomed members of the Northeastern community to the Sacred Space on the anniversary of the country’s most tragic day.
Standing behind a podium on which a burning candle flickered, Kern summed up the purpose of the solemn ceremony: “We remember all the precious lives lost on Sept. 11, each one shining like a star in God’s great galaxy,” he said. “We remember our own lives, before and after, the people we were, and the people we have become: somehow wiser, more tender, compassionate.”
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun characterized the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a crime against humanity.
“9/11,” he explained, “was not only an attack against the United States.” Rather, he said, “People were attacked regardless of their nationality, religion or beliefs.”
Aoun underscored the point, recalling that newspapers all over the world had expressed their support in the aftermath of the attacks through headlines like one that read “We are all Americans now.”
Aoun also urged students, faculty and staff in attendance to remember those who lost their lives in 9/11. “If we don’t remember, then we have no history,” he explained. “And if we don’t have history, then we don’t have an identity.”
Prior to the closing of the 30-minute ceremony, Kern led the singing of a song called “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.”
“Each of us,” he said, “is a member of the global family.”