Many Smithfield-Selma High School students are too young to remember much about Sept. 11, 2001. But they all stood in commemoration last week of an event that shaped their generation.
This past Wednesday was the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Smithfield-Selma held its yearly observance, with students, teachers, administrators and local emergency responders coming together to commemorate the lives lost on that day.
About 1,200 students filled the front parking loop. Parked nearby were emergency responder vehicles, including a fire department ladder truck that held a large U.S. flag.
The service began at 8 a.m. SSS’s principal, Michael Taylor, and the school’s Navy Junior ROTC unit led the ceremony. Cadets in an honor guard raised flags to the top of the school’s flagpole and then lowered them to half-staff. A group sang the national anthem and “America the Beautiful,” and a bagpipe player played “Amazing Grace.” During a reading, a jarring bell broke through the quiet, signifying the crash of the planes into the World Trade Center. Everyone also observed a moment of silence.
“These folks got up ... doing the things that they normally do,” Smithfield Mayor Daniel Evans said of the victims. “And tragedy hit.”
Evans said people should focus not on the tragedy of the day but on the individuals who died. “How they lived,” he said. “How they laughed. How they loved.”
Evans said the challenge is not just to come together and commemorate as people do every year. “But to ask ourselves, ‘What are we taking from this?’” he said. “How are we learning how to live better should tragedy hit us at any given time?”
“This is the challenge to each of us today. How do we step out of our comfort zones and make this nation even greater?” he said.
In a later interview, Taylor, the principal, said hosting the ceremony each year is a privilege. “This is just a way for us as a community to represent or to memorialize and honor those who are continuing to fight the fight,” he said. “Firefighters, policemen, EMS people. And still our service members are fighting based on what happened so long ago.”
Before the ceremony every year, the school shows students a 15-minute video about the terrorist attacks, Taylor said. Some of today’s SSS were as young as 2 years old in 2001, and the video helps show the importance of the day, he said.
Senior Tatyana Sanders was 5 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. She is commanding officer of the school’s Navy Junior ROTC unit, and on Wednesday, she helped raise and lower the flags as a member of the honor guard.
“Every year I always think of the significance of the ceremony and what it represents,” Sanders said. “It’s very dear to my heart that I get to represent for JROTC and show our courtesy to the 9/11 (victims) and that we do remember them and that we haven’t forgotten about them.”
“To me, it’s special too,” said Malachi Barnes, a senior and executive officer in the Navy Junior ROTC. “It means a lot to me. I’m not just a regular bystander. I get to show that I respect the people that died and the people who were courageous enough, had courage to help the people who died within the whole disaster.”
Barnes has a personal connection to the event. Before moving to North Carolina, his family lived in upstate New York. “It touches kind of close to home because that’s where I was born, and it was of big significance to our country, to the city,” he said. “I don’t really remember much from it ... though, just that my mom was crying.”
Both Sanders and Barnes plan to enlist in the military. They said commemorating the event each year is important.
“I feel that every year it becomes more and more important to remember it,” Sanders said. “Because as more generations are being born, the people that weren’t born (when 9/11 happened), they don't know what really happened. They only know what we tell them. So for us to commemorate it every year, it shows that we haven’t forgotten about the people that we've lost and the people that serve our country and that we’re here for each other ever day.”