Few students turn out for 9/11 commemoration


Carolina Sanchez

The Student Veteran Society and the Student Programming Board hosted “Together We Remember,” an open-mic event in the Papermaker’s Garden, 754 S. Wabash Ave., that invited the college’s veterans to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

By Assistant Campus Editor

“Never Forget,” a term often used when discussing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people and led to years of military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, seems to have largely fallen on deaf ears at Columbia. 

The college’s Student Veteran Society and the Student Programming Board hosted “Together We Remember” on Sept. 11. The open-mic event was meant to heighten the visibility of the college’s veteran students and commemorate the 13th anniversary of the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. But rather than drawing throngs of students to the Papermaker’s Garden, 754 S. Wabash Ave., the event attracted only a handful of attendees.

The mostly-empty chairs held Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost, the guest speakers and a few students, many of whom left within the first 30 minutes. Onlookers would occasionally stop, but few filtered into the small crowd.

The veteran speakers read personal stories and poetry while SPB set up tables for students to write letters to troops who are still serving overseas.

Brian Ngo, a junior marketing communication major and president of the Student Veteran Society, said the event was held to change students’ and the community’s perspective on what a veteran is. 

“I want [students] to have more information before making judgments and drawing conclusions,” Ngo said. “The exposure of vets [on campus] to students is somewhat lacking.” 

Ngo, who was disappointed with the turnout of the event but was appreciative of the people who attended, said that the location, which sits adjacent to an elevated train line, may have contributed to the poor turnout. The rattle of the train made it difficult to hear and understand the speakers and once the noise subsided, the brisk fall weather drove students away early, according to Ngo.   

Ngo and the organizations involved said they agreed to find a new location for future events because of its noise pollution and poor opportunity for advertisements.

“The location is horrendous due to the train,” Ngo said. “Weather has been working against us, but I’m glad [some people] came out to show their support.”

Ngo emceed and spoke four times during the hour-and-a-half long event. Ngo’s stories recalled his time on a ship swaying between a tsunami and a tropical storm and love letters never sent.

“[Veterans] have a lot of stories and a lot of memories,” Ngo said. “We are here trying to give an insight on our lives and something that [fellow students] would never have the chance to look into before.”

Ngo said one of his main goals for the organization and the event was to showcase how student veterans are not defined by stereotypes that are often attached to soldiers.

“[The event] was to educate and tell people, ‘I know you got this idea of me, but I know who I am,’” Ngo said. “I’m not ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ‘Jarhead,’ ‘Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan.’ I’m not the movies or pop culture often displayed when you hear ‘veteran.’”

Cameron Boswell, a student veteran and a senior audio arts & acoustics major, spoke about his experience with 9/11 and why he enlisted in the armed forces. He said he wanted the audience to realize people are still overseas today. 

“[We wanted to] keep the memory alive,” Boswell said. “Maybe just make people remember.”

Speakers reflected on their time overseas and shared memories. Others shared poetry or letters and journal entries. Boswell said veterans having the opportunity to share their work was powerful.

However, some students were not aware of the event or that the Student Veteran Society exists.

Colin Petersen, a senior journalism major, said this was the first he had heard of the society.

“They need to advertise more in the buildings,” Petersen said. 

Kari Allen, a junior journalism major, said she had no idea an event was taking place, but that she would not have attended even if she did.

“I’m an introvert,” Allen said. “I’ll force myself to go places [but] I probably wouldn’t go to the 9/11 event [because I didn’t know of anyone going].”

Jessica Davis, vice president of the SPB and a junior business & entrepreneurship major, said the event was a community service project for her organization. She said while it was billed as a 9/11 memorial event, it was also intended to increase the organization’s profile on campus. 

“I’m hoping this raises awareness for the Student Veteran Society,” Davis said. “I’m hoping it will bring people to a better understanding of what [student veterans] have been through and that they do exist.”