School honors 20th anniversary of 9/11 with first ceremony in two years


Danielle Jahrmarkt

JROTC members stand at the 9/11 memorial during the singing of the national anthem.

After marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks in 2001, the school resumed its annual ceremony on September 10.  As the only public high school with a permanent memorial,  the “We Will Never Forget” ceremony resumed for the first time since 2019. Last year’s ceremony was not held due to school being virtual due to the pandemic. The ceremony was also missed in 2017 due to  Hurricane Irma that kept the school closed, making this year’s ceremony especially anticipated. With the flood of a brand-new freshman and sophomore class, many students don’t know about the monument, so Friday’s event was a first for many. 

Principal Jimmy Arrojo started the event with an announcement for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the exact time when the first plane hit the first tower fell 20 years ago. He also encouraged staff members to share their memories from that day with students.  

With  limited seating due to COVID, many students and teachers commemorated the day from inside the classroom. 

The annual ceremony first started a year after the 9/11 tragedy and has been held almost every year since then. The monument was completely built by students. Most of the teachers and staff at Western were not here when the monument was built, but new ASL teacher Cara Silva attended Western as a student when the monument was  built. Her older brother by ten years and a former JROTC member also attended.

“I remember going outside the first time they had the event,” Silva said. “It’s one of those full circle experiences, you know. I was here as a student and now I’m here as a teacher and to see my students, now, being able to participate in events like this is just [indescribable].”

Teachers who were unable to have their class attend the ceremony showed their respect by recounting the events of the day and sharing stories. Every adult can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the planes hit, but none of the students can directly relate. Although none of the students  were alive during the tragedy of 9/11, many people are able to live that day through the memories of their parents and elder loved ones. Senior Gianna Deviti vividly remembers the stories her dad would tell her of the tragedy and shares his feelings of grief every year.

“My dad loved New York; that was his home. He would say how it was the greatest city in the world, so when that happened it was really heartbreaking,” Deviti said.

Even though most students weren’t directly affected by the horrific events of 9/11, they know the impact that that day caused for Americans. 

The ceremony started at 9:30 a.m. with fire trucks and police cars filling the first two rows of the student parking lot. The school’s band was playing patriotic music as the students entered their seats. The ceremony began with the national anthem and a performance from the JROTC color guard. Principal Arrojo started with a speech honoring the lives and heroes of the 9/11 tragedy and listed all of the special guests present for the ceremony including  Mayor Judy Paul, who also spoke at the event.

 It seems like the biggest challenge for those who actively participated in the event was getting back into the swing of things after a two year break from it. 

“It was nerve-racking just because it was our first time doing it in two years and [because] it was [for] the 20th anniversary it was an even bigger deal this time,” said JROTC Batallion Commander Anna Boada. 

Boada usually takes the pictures of the color guard during the ceremony but this time was special to her because she got to participate in this important event. 

The event ended with the folding of the American flag and it being offered to SGA president Maria Sanchez who was, both nervous and honored to receive the flag. Sanchez wasn’t alive when 9/11 happened, but said she was very grateful to have been a part of the ceremony.

Assistant principal Derek Gordon has planned the ceremony for nine years now, but said it’s always an emotional experience. 

“I was surprised, you know, at how moved I was again. I’ve seen it nine times, you know, but parts of it still get to me,” Gordon said.

Every year, the organizing and planning for the ceremony begins during the summer, in order to have everything covered by September. Although Gordon directs the ceremonies every year, he credits most of the hard work and preparation to all of the clubs and programs that help pull the event together.