As we approached the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Wheeler remembered those who died in the terrorist attacks and the wars that followed. At last Friday’s Upper School assembly, Ella Kulper ’23 and Daniel Hu ’23 spoke of the victims, “everyday Americans prepared for an average day at work–– who never got to go home…They were frontline workers and crew members. They were parents. They were sons, daughters, and children.
“Watching the last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan this past month is a reminder that the tragedy of 9/11 didn’t end on September 11th,” they continued. “Troops were sent to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda after 9/11 and they remained there for almost 20 years. Today we remember those lives lost on 9/11 and the many Americans, Afghans, and others lost in its aftermath.”
Upper School Head Neeltje Henneman, who was working in a New York City school on 9/11, shared her memories of that tragic day. “My office looked directly at the Twin Towers…It was the first day of school, and it was an extraordinarily beautiful day,” she remembered. “Early on in the morning, we heard that a plane had hit the towers, and it never for one second occurred to me that it was anything other than an accident…We gathered around and turned on the radio because that’s what we did back then, and the newscasters didn’t really know what to make of it. And we looked and we saw the second plane hit…I’ll just never forget in that moment, knowing two things: knowing the world had changed forever, and I knew we had a lot of kids to keep safe, because we just didn’t know how vulnerable we were.
“There are so many things that I’ve taken away from that day,” she continued. “There were such extraordinary and heroic acts of kindness, and there were such terrible things that happened afterwards too, where Brown kids and families were treated really poorly in New York and this country. And both things were true, highlighting the complexity of the world we live in.”
Countering Acts of Hate with Acts of Humanity
A similar sense of global connection motivated Kelly Foss, who teaches Middle School Spanish and Upper School French, to become involved with a foundation, started by two women whose husbands were killed in the 9/11 attacks, that aids widows in Afghanistan. “In 2006, when I first heard about Beyond the 11th, which counters acts of hate with acts of humanity, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Foss said.
The biggest fundraiser for Beyond the 11th is a 260-mile bike ride from the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan to Boston, symbolizing the return trip of the founders’ husbands. “I’ve completed the ride five times, and the returning group of about 40 riders and eight or so volunteers has become like a family to me,” said Foss. “The ride honors all the victims and rescuers who lost their lives that day, but also celebrates the countless acts of courage and humanity that have marked the years since. Beyond the 11th funds projects that directly address the long-term strategy of helping Afghan women develop sustainable livelihoods, which is more important now than ever before. So far I’ve raised $5,250 this year, thanks in large part to the generosity of my coworkers here at Wheeler. I couldn’t be more proud and happy to be a part of this amazing experience and raise money for this foundation.”
The Importance of Understanding the Past
As she prepared to address her classmates at last week’s Upper School assembly, Ella Kulper said “it occurred to me that not a single student listening was alive on 9/11/2001. While 9/11 is a fresh and difficult memory for many of our parents and guardians, none of us had been born when the terrorist attacks took place. That makes learning about 9/11 and remembering the folks who lost their lives on 9/11 all the more important for our generation. 9/11 is the kind of tragedy that I hope our generation never has to face, but part of assuring that the past doesn’t repeat itself is understanding the past in its entirety.”