Most of us remember where we were 20 years ago on 9/11, the date of a tragic event that shook the hearts, minds, and spirits of people in cities and countries around the world. This is especially true for American expat communities, searching for comfort, relying on each other and their community around them to help share their grief, commemorate the tragedy, and tell stories of those lost during 9/11.
The wish to remember and commemorate is the foundation which grew the tradition of the Ceremony of Remembrance and Hope, organized each year by Overseas Americans Remember (OAR), with ASH staff alumna Roberta Enschede as its lead. An ASH landmark that we pass each day, the Magnolia Tree, was also planted with this commemoration in mind. Twenty years on, both this event and our own beautiful tree give people from all walks of life the opportunity to share their feelings and memories connected to the tragedy; and join each other to remember those who fell and to look forward together to a future with hope.
Each year at the ceremony, members of the ASH community and beyond speak about their memories of the day and how it affected them. Our neighboring school Aldelbert College was a significant support when the tragedy unfolded, and many of their former students speak at the ceremony to share what the memorial means to them. Jeroen Smits, an Adelbert College alum, who was in his first year of high school at the time of 9/11, has attended the ceremony to play Taps and Amazing Grace. He recalls his feelings below:
"I remember it was only a few weeks into my first year of high school at Adelbert when 9/11 happened. The news was on tv at school all day, and at home. It was all anyone could think about, and I remember feeling shocked and useless that we couldn't do something to help. ASH is located right beside Adelbert, of course, so our student representatives decided to get all students together to get flowers for the students at ASH. I remember a delegation of our school delivering the flowers the next day, and the connection we felt to the students there. Later in high school, I joined the student representatives as well, and I remember being invited for the 9/11 memorial at ASH. It made a big impression on me and I'll always remember the strong connection the two schools shared.
The day following 9/11, Adelbert College students brought over 1400 white roses to ASH, each attached with a note, to show the ASH community just how much their hearts were hurting alongside ours. The roses meant so much to so many at ASH and remained in our hallways for many weeks as a reminder of support and comfort from our Dutch neighbors. ASH also reached out to help others in their grief by adopting Squad One from Brooklyn, who lost 12 out of 20 firemen during 9/11. Grade 5 teacher Daralyn Donattuti, who grew up in that neighborhood, organized ASH contributions to the fund set up for the wives and 27 children who lost their fathers during the tragedy. Two of the firefighters from Brooklyn Squad One, who were at Ground Zero on the day, visited ASH in January 2002 to connect with our community and share their story with us.
We continue to remember, with each blossom from the Magnolia Tree, whose roots were planted in commemoration of 9/11 in 2002 and which continue to grow deep in the ASH front gardens. Each year as the tree blooms in spring, with the green leaves turning brown in the fall, and rejuvenation happening after each winter, we acknowledge these special words on a plaque adorning the tree "May we grow and blossom like this tree and the human family we were meant to be." Planted so many years ago, it is still a true statement of both remembrance and hope; the living center of each year’s ceremony, that resonates with everyone who takes a moment to read the plaque’s words.
This tradition helps unify so many, showcasing how much our community cares about others, and provides a platform for us all to feel safe. Thanks to everyone who keeps on sharing, and to Roberta Enschede and OAR for helping us take the time each year to look back, remember, and to look forward, with hope.