EAST PROVIDENCE — When two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, most of the students who were waving American flags and banners during a 9/11 ceremony last week were infants or yet to be born.
Still, each child offered prayers and songs to those who lost their lives on the thirteenth anniversary of terrorist attacks on America, one of the deadliest days on U.S. soil. Some of them read poems, declaring their patriotism and praising heroes.
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“A hero doesn’t need a cape and mask to accomplish any life-changing task,” eighth grader Lauren Harrington, 13, said at the event, which took place on the lawn of the school on Patriot Day. “A hero shows bravery, and pushes fear aside. Heroes are leaders, always there to guide.”
Her poem went on to note the courage and dedication of parents, teachers, officers, and doctors. She also cited one of the most noteworthy heroes in history.
“Jesus dying on the cross for all; they’re all heroes, big or small,” she said.
During the assembly, Principal Guy Alba also highlighted Christ’s valiant actions. Dying on the cross, he said, was a selfless, generous deed.
“Jesus put himself in harm’s way for us,” Alba reminded the children. “He didn’t owe it to us; he just did it voluntarily. There are people in our lives that put themselves out and compromise their own personal safety and well-being for others. Sometimes, we don’t even know their names, but they are out there protecting and serving. We have some wonderful people here.”
Among the guests were former St. Margaret Principal John Rezendes, who established the event at the school following the attack. Alba said he is proud to continue Rezendes’ theme of remembrance and appreciation.
Also in attendance was Msgr. William McCaffrey, who led the group in prayer, asking God to remember the men and women who died, their loved ones, and first responders. East Providence Fire and Police Chiefs were on hand, as was Diocesan Catholic Schools Superintendent Daniel Ferris, and Brig. General Marcus Jannitto of the U.S. Army.
General Jannitto, who presented Principal Alba with a coin of excellence during the ceremony, was deployed to Ground Zero right after the Twin Towers crumbled to provide critical incident stress management for first responders. For two weeks, his team conducted 100 debriefings to police, firemen, military and federal workers.
He spoke to the children about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” pointing out that while most people know the first verse, there are four verses in total. He referenced a lyric in the final verse, “Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!”
“The power that they are talking about is God,” he said. “Our founding fathers in the United States really believed that this nation was given to us by God and founded by God…We’re here because of some terrible event that happened 13 years ago, but we are also joyful because God has such a good place in the history of our nation and your school.”
It’s a fact that resonated in students. Their passion was evident when they sang, “God Bless the USA,” and “God Bless America,” as well as recited the “Pledge of Allegiance,” and gave one another a sign of peace.
Aside from Harrington, a handful of other middle school students also read poems. They included seventh graders, Max DiMuccio, 12, and Juliana Goncalves, 12, as well as eighth graders Lauren O’Brien, 13, Phoebe Dodge, 13, and Ariana Yany, 13. Goncalves wrote her poem about Rezendes.
“He is what a hero is made of,” she said, noting his compassion, dedication, determination, and honesty.
Yany, who was seven months old when the planes struck the World Trade Center, said it’s important to hold memorials to remember those who died, while O’Brien praised people who risked their lives to assist strangers.
“God was shown through all the people who helped others,” said O’Brien.
“In the moment, God was the one who pushed the heroes to do what they did and give them the courage that they needed,” she said.