On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Episcopal students, faculty, and staff gathered on the Chapel Quad for a commemorative chapel service. After a moving introduction from Head of School Charley Stillwell, German teacher Hannah Ellington ’03 and Head Chaplain Betsy Carmody gave first-hand accounts of the day. The School also invited Members of the Alexandria Fire Department to honor the sacrifice of first responders on 9/11.
As he thanked the firefighters in attendance, Stillwell recounted “...the heroic efforts and sacrifice by individuals risking their own lives to help others” and encouraged all to reflect on the “courage and selflessness that emerged on that day and for years to come” – qualities that Episcopal strives to instill in every graduate. He told the students (all of whom were born after 2001) of the unity of the country in the aftermath of the attacks.
“At a time when it is hard for our country to feel unified, we can see a very different mindset in the powerful unity and patriotism that emerged after 9/11. Differences were put aside as we thought of ourselves as Americans first. Millions of dollars flooded in to help the families of victims. Large American flags covered buildings. Scores of young people, including many Episcopal alumni, were inspired to serve in the armed forces or pursue careers in service just like the impressive firefighters joining us today. This pride that emerged in our common purpose and desire to help the world be a better place can be a source of strength for all of us moving forward.”
Stillwell also recounted the rise in Islamophobia that grew more present in the country following the attacks: “This shock pulled us together in many ways but also showed us the impact that fear and anger can have on decision-making. 9/11 caused unfair prejudices and hurtful mistreatment of religious groups and individuals from certain parts of the world. 9/11 also led us to debate the proper balance between individual freedom and national and individual security and the role that America and other countries should play in the world. As future leaders, you will be called upon to help us eliminate these kinds of prejudices and to find helpful answers for all these challenging questions about our freedoms and our place in the world.”
Ellington remembered being in math class in Hummel Learning Center when there was a knock on the door. After learning a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, her teacher turned on the television and the class watched the horrors of that morning unfold together. As the community filed out of classrooms and convened in Callaway Chapel for comfort, fellowship, and safety, smoke filled the air from the attack on the Pentagon, a mere five miles from campus.
Ellington’s memories of that day are like “an impressionist painting. The picture is pretty clear from afar, but when you look closely, things feel blurry.” She spoke of taking Middle Eastern History the following year to try to understand the day’s events. “But understanding doesn’t make it any less painful,” she reflected. “Never forget” became a rallying cry for the country in an effort to remember the unity and patriotism following the attacks. “I couldn’t forget if I wanted to,” said Ellington.
Betsy Carmody sought solace in her church that morning. Much like Ellington in Callaway Chapel, Carmody knew she “needed that place and those people” as she processed the news. Looking back, she remembers that day as a turning point in her life and career. She was called to ministry that morning. To her, 9/11 “showed the care and compassion that strangers could have for one another. It unveiled what dedication to duty looks like as firefighters searched Ground Zero twenty-four hours a day – day after day.”
In addition to the all-school chapel, Episcopal raised a commemorative flag – designed several years ago by first responder groups – in Hummel Bowl and rang the school bell six times, recognizing each of the four flights and the collapse of the North and South Towers. Watch the service here