University events pay tribute to 9/11 victims, first responders

Members of the University of Miami community attend a ceremony to honor the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at the University Center Rock Plaza on Friday, Sept. 10. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
By Ashley A. Williams and Michael R. Malone

Members of the University of Miami community attend a ceremony to honor the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at the University Center Rock Plaza on Friday, Sept. 10. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

University events pay tribute to 9/11 victims, first responders

By Ashley A. Williams and Michael R. Malone
In poignant and moving remembrances, the University of Miami marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands and moved a nation.

The University of Miami honored first responders and commemorated the 9/11 terrorist attacks with two remembrance ceremonies on Friday for students, faculty and staff members, and the South Florida community. 

At the events, one in the afternoon at the Rock Plaza and the second in the evening at the Miami Herbert Business School, the University community celebrated the “courage and compassion” of first responders and honored the estimated almost 3,000 people who died and the thousands who were injured as a result of the 9/11 attacks, as well as the families of the victims.

Leadership at 9/11 business school event
The Miami Herbert Business School honored first responders. Photo: Diego Meza-Valdes/University of Miami

Julio Frenk, president of the University; John Quelch, dean of the business school; Mark A. Trowbridge, president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce; and Michael Mena, vice mayor of Coral Gables, attended the evening event and reflected on the fateful day 20 years ago that shifted the course of the world.

“Sept. 11, 2001 was a harsh welcoming into the 21st century and marked a moment in which we had to recognize that when hopelessness takes root—even on the other side of the planet—it has devastating repercussions for all of us,” Frenk said.

“Yet just as the darkness of 9/11 casts a long shadow which has colored everything that has happened since then, the courage and compassion of our first responders that day—and on countless occasions since then—remind us of our human potential,” Frenk added.   

The president compared the “powerful example” of the 9/11 first responders to those who have served and sacrificed to address the health, economic, and social crisis of the past year and a half.

“They have shown us what is possible when we work together to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges,” Frenk noted. 

Mena, reelected as vice mayor in 2021, graduated from the University in August 2001 and moved to New York City to attend law school—two weeks before the attacks.

“That fateful day—a seminal moment in our nation’s history—is seared in my memory for the rest of my life,” Mena said. He described visiting the World Trade Center site a week later to see the ashes still smoldering and people wearing masks—“common today, but back then it shocked the consciousness.”

Above all else, Mena said, he remembers two things from that time: the experience of our country coming together in the aftermath of the tragedy and the notion that “we are all in this together,” he stated. 

City of Coral Gables first responders
First responders with the City of Coral Gables. Photo: Diego Meza-Valdes/University of Miami

“Make no mistake that these men and women, the first responders in the tragedy, were true heroes,” he pointed out. “Today we celebrate the bravery of all those on the front lines, including the 13 Marines recently killed in Afghanistan, and pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.”

Earlier in the day, students and others gathered at the Rock Plaza, as they have each 9/11 anniversary for the past 19 years for a national day of service and remembrance, an event coordinated by the Division of Student Affairs and Butler Center for Leadership and Service.

That event was hosted by Landon Coles, Student Government president, and featured musical selections by the Hammond-Butler Gospel Choir, an invocation by Rabbi Mendy Fellig, and remarks by Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs. She spoke about the day 20 years ago.

“Over 2,000 students, faculty, and staff came together right here to remember the victims. We embraced each other, we prayed and together with our country we struggled to make sense of the day that was beyond our comprehension,” she said. “Today we pay special tribute to all our veterans—some with us today and some who continue their education with us,” she added.

Derek Auguste, an alumnus, army veteran, and former Veteran Students Organization president, attended the remembrance service. “To remember the enormous unity that I felt following 9/11 helps me get through this and to move beyond the pain I feel,” August said.

The ceremony also helped William Gerlach, a University of Miami Police Department captain, put his memories into perspective and to mark the changes in two decades. 

“To see the students—many of whom were not even alive then—take part and tie the commemoration into a day of service is a wonderful thing,” Gerlach said. “As Landon [Coles] urged us in his remarks, ‘it’s important to take a tragedy and build on that and become stronger.’ If we keep moving in that direction, there are a lot of good things for the tomorrows to come.”

On Saturday evening at Hard Rock Stadium, the Athletics Department celebrated the University police department and Office of Emergency Management for their ongoing service and also honored members representing a southwest Miami-Dade fire station that has erected a memorial dedicated to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.

University students who participated Saturday morning in a ruck—a brisk walk/run wearing weighted backpacks—from the Coral Gables campus to the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, were also recognized.