by Penny Fang, Seyoon Byun & Alison Sam
On Sept. 11, the city of Newton and the Newton 9/11 Memorial Committee held its annual commemoration of the eight Newton residents who passed during the tragedy.
Among the crowd gathered to honor the fallen were high school seniors James Dandrea, Nyla Sharif and Allison Wu, winners of the essay contest organized by the committee.
During the event, Wu, the first place winner, was awarded with a scholarship of $1000, and the second and third place winners were each awarded $500 scholarships.
The Newton 9/11 Memorial Committee, a non-profit independent of municipal government, launched the essay contest for the first time to encourage students to learn about the events on 9/11. Each scholarship applicant visited Newton’s 9/11 memorial and wrote reflections detailing their visit and perspective on the impact of the attacks to qualify for the scholarships.
First place winner and South senior Wu said that the memorial was a work of art and had a profound impact on her.
“I was able to connect with the steps as they all had details that indicated hour-by-hour events and what happened, and was touched by the information of the victims,” she said.
“It was very accessible even to people who aren’t familiar with the event. There’s so much symbolism you might not get on the first visit, but if you take the time to look into it, you can appreciate the memorial for what it’s trying to do.”
Third place recipient and North senior Dandrea said that young people should have a general understanding of impactful events in history in order to create a more united society.
“It’s really important for us as the next generation to know about [9/11] because we should all know about our history,” he said. “That can help us influence the system in the future, and that’s something that I feel holds this nation together.”
Wu said that the essay contest prompts students to think about how 9/11 affects us today.
“I think it’s a really good way to keep it in students memories, especially since we weren’t alive at the time of the 911 attacks,” she said. “The school teaches it to us, but it’s surface level. This scholarship helps to dig a little deeper and find our own connection to it.”
South history teacher Andrew Thompson said the scholarship helps students develop an understanding of how 9/11 affected the country.
“It’s a great way to have a deeper understanding of what’s happened,” he said. “How it has affected us locally, why it matters, what it’s meant for different groups in our society, both the victims and people who were falsely accused and the ways that it’s impacted our government.”
Despite the overall positive response regarding the scholarship, some students are unsure about applying in the future. Junior Kimmie Chan said she would be more inclined to apply if she could demonstrate her interest and spread awareness through different mediums.
“Essays aren’t motivating as much. Posters, blogs, podcasts, storytelling and a variety of other projects would seem interesting to do” she said.
Freshman Nicolas Yu said the committee should consider more active forms of community service.
“Instead of an essay, the applicant could plan a fundraiser and spread awareness through social media, posters and protests,” he said.
Attendants of the event honored the eight 9/11 victims from Newton. Dandrea said the number of community members in attendance made the event more meaningful.
“A variety of people came together for the celebration,” he said. “Everything felt more real because these people were alive during the tragedy, and they are very close to it.”
Dandrea said that even though the memorial and the events are accessible to everyone, few people are informed about the memorial committee and their goals.
“They should make the committee more known because quite a few applicants were signed up, but not many people attended the event.” he said. “It made me wish I’d gone past years. A lot more people should know about it.”
South history teacher Julie Masi said that despite teaching US history, she was unaware about the existence of the scholarship.
“Partnering with the schools would be a great method to spread information,” she said.“Even though I teach US history, I didn’t know about this scholarship, so reaching out directly to teachers and schools would get teachers to learn more about the scholarship and promote it to students.”
Masi said that teachers are responsible for providing a safe space for students to discuss the events of 9/11 — a responsibility the committee’s scholarship can help them fulfill.
“It is our job as educators to pass down this history, make sure students are aware of why this day is important to know about and give opportunities to students to recognize the lives that were lost because it was a truly tragic and horrific day.”