UNCG Magazine

Vigils and ‘United We Stand’: 9/11 and 9/12 at UNCG

Skyline of Manhattan with smoke billowing from the Twin Towers following September 11th terrorist attack on World Trade Center, New York City. Sept. 11, 2001

On Sept. 12, 2001, more than 3,000* UNCG students, faculty, and staff gathered around the  Fountain for a vigil and remembrance service. The Pentagon and World Trade Center sites, as well as a deep depression in Pennsylvian soil, were still smoldering. 

The campus community – like all of America – was reeling.

The day before, a seemingly normal Tuesday morning with a bright blue sky, a massive al-Qaeda terrorist attack was launched in the Eastern United States. The images were unconscionable. Two passenger jets were hijacked and slammed into the Manhattan World Trade Center’s Twin Towers; the towers collapsed within hours. In Washington, D.C., a hijacked passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon. A fourth flight had been heading to Washington, the Capitol Building as the highjackers’ likely target. Before Flight 93 reached Washington, its passengers fought back. That plane, with Greensboro resident Sandy Bradshaw as flight attendant, crashed in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

The number of fatalities was unclear that day – certainly in the thousands.

Many UNCG students in their residence halls and apartments watched the news updates late into the night and into the next day.

When you looked skyward, you saw no contrails or evidence of planes. It was unclear if more planes may be involved in the attack. All planes nationwide were grounded.

The next day, Sept. 12, 2001

Chris Fay, who led UNCG’s Grounds team, learned of a planned UNCG vigil as he checked his overnight messages. He met with his team at 6 a.m., and they set to work making the Fountain area spotless. They planted mums, and they cut roses for those who’d lost loved ones the day before. A UNCG Campus Weekly article by Beth English reported the events of the day. Mary Culkin, who led Disability Services, had known Fay since they were kids growing up in New York City. They checked in with each other, and when Culkin saw what the Grounds team had done in a few short hours – the Fountain area looked immaculate – she broke into tears. 

The plaza (now known as Moran Plaza) was packed for the noon vigil. Mary K. Sandford, an associate dean, encouraged people to look to their community for support. Latoya Tate, SGA president, encouraged each person to take an active role. Dr. Ben Ramsey, Kevin Bullard, and SGA vice president Carisa Stanley also spoke, according to a front page report in The Carolinian, written by Joe Wilbur. Teaching assistant Vanessa Davis led those assembled in “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.”

Chancellor Patricia Sullivan asked everyone to hold hands and pray for those who’d died.

“We will struggle to understand, to forgive, to continue. But we must understand, forgive, and continue. If not, those evil creatures will have won and won and won,” Sullivan said.

“Today we begin a different kind of journey for America. A journey of sorrow, healing, and forgiveness. A coming together in a way we haven’t in a long time.” 

The University Bell was rung. The crowd sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”

That day, many students lined up for an off-campus Red Cross blood drive. In the evening, a candlelight vigil was held. Students painted the Rawk with the message “United We Stand.” Campus Weekly gave suggestions of how faculty, staff, and students could help.

And by the time Campus Weekly went to press, editor Beth English compiled a listing of what had occurred on campus in the few days after the terrible 9/11 day. (See visuals below)

Compiled by Mike Harris, UNCG Magazine editor. Campus Weekly and The Carolinian documents courtesy UNCG Archives. *3,000-person vigil attendance figure is according to CW.

See story about a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at UNCG.

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