Grand Valley commemorates 20th anniversary of September 11 attacks

Students place U.S. flags on lawn of Kirkhof Center for anniversary of September 11, 2001.
The Grand Valley Student Senate remembered the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by placing 2,977 U.S. flags on the lawn of the Kirkhof Center.
Image Credit: Tanner Hamilton

The Grand Valley community, which united 20 years ago to heal from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, united again on the 20th anniversary of that fateful day to commemorate those who died and honor the first responders and veterans who sacrificed in response. 

For faculty and staff, the day’s unimaginable events and the nation’s response, still reverberate decades later. For Grand Valley students, it is a day preserved in history books for many were too young to understand the ramifications that followed.

Student Senate partnered with multiple student groups to place 2,977 flags — each one honoring an American killed in the attacks — across the lawn adjacent to the Kirkhof Center.

“This annual event to memorialize those who lost their lives and honor the first-responders in the 9/11 attacks shows profound respect and also the fabric that holds us together as a nation and a campus community,” said GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella. 

“Many of the students who are leading us in these campus events weren’t alive or were infants when the attacks happened. Yet, they are showing they understand the significance of the events and the obligation they have to remember and to honor those who give their lives or serve in the military to protect our freedom.”

Students placing U.S. flags in remembrance of September 11
Grand Valley's Student Senate and other student organizations placed thousands of U.S. flags at the Kirkhof Center in commemoration of September 11.
Tanner Hamilton
Members of military standing at football game
Members of the U.S. military stand during Grand Valley's football game against Colorado State-Pueblo on September 11.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
Firefighter silhouetted against U.S. flag
A firefighter is silhouetted against a U.S. flag hanging from a fire engine. The flag was hanging over Stadium Drive as fans walked to Grand Valley's first football game of the season.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

While many students may not have been alive at the time, their service on campus recognized the magnitude of the day. 

“On the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we continue to recognize and reflect on the magnitude this event had on our nation and our fellow citizens,” said Eldon Pearson, vice president of public relations for Student Senate. 

“We continue to stand in solidarity with the families of the victims, the families of the lost emergency and military personnel, and those injured in the attacks.”

The anniversary coincided with Grand Valley’s first football game of the 2021 season and first since November 2019. COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, marking Saturday’s game against Colorado State-Pueblo as its first in more than 650 days.

In preparation for the game, the Athletics Department distributed thousands of red, white and blue T-shirts to students for Stars and Stripes Night.

The Grand Valley football team walks to Lubbers Stadium before its games
Members of the Grand Valley State football team walk to Lubbers Stadium before their season-opener against Colorado State-Pueblo
Tanner Hamilton
Parachutist comes in for a landing at Lubbers Stadium
A parachutist glides for a landing at Lubbers Stadium prior to the start of Grand Valley's first game of the season against Colorado State-Pueblo.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
Student writing a thank you letter to a veteran
A Grand Valley student shares a laugh with a friend while writing a letter to a veteran.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

Before kickoff, Laker Vets — the Grand Valley chapter of Student Veterans of America — gathered for a tailgate to honor and thank those who served in the armed forces. Sitting at a table of friends, behavioral neuroscience major and Army veteran Nia Ford was in the fifth grade in 2001 and recollected how her teachers remained quiet and composed through the day. 

“It’s definitely a part of our culture now,” said Ford, who enlisted in 2009. “I remember it being real for us. 

“When I enlisted, I wasn’t too much aware of the political culture at the time, but they did tell us we joined in a time of war. Looking back as an adult, I realized how much had changed.”

President Philomena V. Mantella visits with students at football tailgate.
President Philomena V. Mantella visits with members of the Student Senate and leaves a thank you letter for a veteran.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
Students enjoy football tailgate
A pair of students head toward Lubbers Stadium for Grand Valley's football game with Colorado State-Pueblo.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
Fans enjoy tailgate
Grand Valley fans enjoy their tailgate before the start of the Lakers' football game against Colorado State-Pueblo.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

Later in the day, other Student Senate members set up a station near Lubbers stadium for students and others to write thank you letters to veterans. President Mantella also stopped by to write her letter of support.

“9/11 was something that we always saw through pictures and videos growing up,” said Faith Kidd, a political science major and vice president for educational affairs with Student Senate. 

“We were always taught to remember that because it completely shifted the trajectory of everything. It impacted everybody.

“For me, it’s a familiarity, but it’s not that I was there to fully experience it. The most important thing is thanking and recognizing those who were there, recognizing that lives were lost, and improving situations so that doesn’t happen again.”