Community pays respect to 9/11 victims

, Beacon Staff/strong

Ten years ago, students and faculty from Emerson College gathered at Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common to mourn the victims of the terrorist attacks that had struck the nation just hours beforehand.

Last Sunday, candles flickered in the breeze as more than 100 students and faculty came together once again to pay tribute to the families affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy at what is now the country’s longest running 9/11 vigil.

President M. Lee Pelton, the first Emerson president to ever attend the vigil, presented the audience with the reading of “Dover Beach,” a poem by Matthew Arnold, as well as his own remarks.

“It is fitting that Emerson College should have been the host of these decade-long vigils, for we are the humanists, in the broadest and most ancient sense of that word,” Pelton said to a somber crowd. “Through the arts we discover and create coherence, integrity, and meaning in human actions – large and small, good and evil.”

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

The vigil was initiated by Emerson’s Communication Politics and Law Association (CPLA) and Gregory Payne, the organization’s advisor, in memory of the wife of a former Emerson trustee, Sonia Mercedez Puopolo, who was killed on American Airlines Flight 11. Sonia’s daughter, Sonia Tita Puopolo was a former CPLA president and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Emerson in 1996 and 97.

“Throughout the years, we’ve expanded this vigil not only to include the victims of Sept.11,” said Payne, associate professor of communication studies, “but also at the suggestion of Tita Puopolo that we make this a vigil and a memory for victims of terrorism worldwide.”

According to Tita Puopolo, her mother sat two seats away from Mohamed Atta, the leader of the terrorist attack, on her flight from Boston to Los Angeles.

The Emerson alumna said that after her mother’s death, Puopolo’s husband prayed for his wife’s wedding ring to be recovered as the couple had an unwritten bond that if anything happened to them, they would communicate with their rings. Eleven months after the attacks, and under 1.6 million tons of debris, recovery workers found Puopolo’s left hand with the ring still on her finger.

“Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message,” Tita Puopolo said, referring to a book by the preeminent media theorist. “Well here, the medium is the ring and the message is that miracles do happen.”

Payne said at the vigil that Tita Puopolo epitomizes the essence of what Emerson is really about.

“While some people could say that on Sept. 11 their life stopped, Tita decided it was important for her to be a bridge of peace,” Payne said. “She’s an extremely courageous individual.”

In addition to Sonia Puopolo, the Emerson community also lost alumna Jane Simpkin and faculty member Myra Aronson in the attacks.

Three students, including sophomore theater education and political communication double major Monica de Pinto Ribeiro Hancke, shared their testimonies of Sept. 11, 2001. Hancke was home in Lisbon, Portugal when she heard that the twin towers had collapsed. She said she had visited New York City a mere six months before.

“No matter what happens or what has happened over these past years, the international community is behind the U.S.,” said Hanche. “We are in harmony with you, and we want to fix these issues that have occurred because of terrorism, and we’re here to stand in unity with you and work together.”

At the end of the ceremony, those holding candles walked to the center of the bandstand and placed them on the floor, while the rest of the gatherers watched or bowed their heads in a moment of silence.

Haley Nagle, a graduate student studying marketing communication, said she came to bring hope to the situation that, as a Californian, she once felt far removed from.

“It hits closer to my heart now that I’m on the East Coast,” said Nagle. “I felt like it was important for me to be here.”

Junior broadcast journalism student, Ali Inglese, said although she wasn’t directly affected by the attacks, she came to support those who did.

“I came out to honor those who lost their lives and support family and friends who were affected by that day,” Inglese said.