The sun shone down on the front of Sonner-Payne Hall, highlighting the various first responders’ vehicles present there—a fire truck, a humvee, and several police cars. But there was no emergency at Randolph-Macon Academy. It was the morning of September 12, 2011, and the students, faculty and staff were gathered to remember the lives lost on September 11, 2001 in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, and to honor local first responders. They gathered in honor of Patriot Day, which had fallen on a Sunday this year.
The ceremony opened with the raising of the flag and the singing of the National Anthem by Michael Williams, director of residential life at R-MA. Grace Alexander ’14 and Madeline Chafin ’14 then laid a ceremonial wreath at the base of the flag in honor of the local first responders—firemen, policemen, and EMTs.
From there the ceremony proceeded to Boggs Chapel. The ceremony was being held during the Academy’s normal chapel service time, but beginning the week with a word of prayer and a reading from the Bible was not ignored. Rev Chad Hrbek offered the opening prayer, and Donovan Farmer ’12 read from the book of John, including the famous verse that holds so much meaning for those who serve in our nation’s military and as first responders: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (New International Version).
Logan Usmani ’12 and John Christoph ’12 were the featured speakers for the event.
“On the eleventh of September, 2011, our nation had to endure a great tragedy,” said Usmani. “We had to deal with the loss of friends, family, loved ones, and our sense of security. Even though I was only seven at the time, I still remember that day being the first in which I saw true fear and sorrow amongst so many people’s faces. But it was also the first day in which I saw true unity. Although 9/11 is a day of great sorrow, it is a day of even greater unity. On that day, we came together as a nation. We came together to grieve, to mourn, and to fight back against those who were the cause of our sorrow. It was a day that sparked a purpose to our nation, and we used that spark to drive ourselves to better Americans, and to be a better America.”
“When those planes hit the World Trade Center Towers, the hijackers sought not to take human life, although lives they did take,” Christoph said, “nor to destroy a building, although a building they did destroy. They were after the way of life which those buildings had symbolized. Hardly were they mere murderers or arsonists—they wanted to scare us. But we were not scared. Out of our initial despair was borne a new fearlessness. Our way of life did not cease after September 11th. We did not stop building big, we kept at it with renewed fervor.”
“We’re not afraid,” Christoph stated. “We aren’t cowering in the shadows of our former glory…. No, we are moving forward as we have always done.”
“So on this day of remembrance, let us mourn the ones we have lost,” said Christoph, “let us venerate the ones who first answered the call, let us thank the ones who put their lives on the lines, that we might have ours. But let us never forget where we are going, that even in times of sorrow there is always hope for the future.”
After the student speeches, Warren County Sheriff Danny McEathron, Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie, and Front Royal Police Chief Richard Furr each received a flag that was flown over R-MA on September 11, 2011, in honor of their respective departments and the sacrifices they make daily to serve and protect others. Maj Gen Henry M. Hobgood, president of R-MA, presented the flags.
After a moment of silence, Rabia Otry ’13 played “Taps” from the balcony in the chapel and there was a 21-gun salute.
As the cadet corps filed out into the sunshine and proceeded to class, the students’ words were shown to be true. Thanks to those who sacrificed on 9/11/01 and every day before and since then, we do not live in fear. We are moving forward in unity, with purpose and hope—and with gratitude in our hearts for all those who serve in the military and who are our first responders.
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), which is currently a Distinguished Unit with Merit, and have the option to participate in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.