Students and staff members of , many wearing patriotic lapel ribbons, gathered on the front lawn Tuesday morning for a special ceremony commemorating the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“We are gathered here to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and to honor those who risked their lives helping others,” Principal Sandra Pensak said. “The police officers, firefighters and EMT workers, who without concern for their own personal safety, responded to the disaster. We are honored to have two of those servicemen here this morning.”
Queens firefighter Lt. Richard Skellington, who has attended the ceremony every year since its 2002 inception, led the group in a pledge to the flag, which was flown at half-mass. Retired New York City Police Department Det. John Tansey, who also attended many of the ceremonies over the years, played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. Both men were at ground zero on 9/11 and have children who graduated from HES.
“They come back each year to instill a memory into these children. They’re not too young to understand this,” Pensak said.
At the event, the children sang several songs, including “America the Beautiful,” select fifth graders read two poems, and there was a brief moment of silence.
Last year, the school planted a tree in memory of HES parent Howard Selwyn, who died on 9/11. Following this year’s ceremony, some of the students planted daffodil bulbs around the tree.
“I hope that everyone who is gathered here today, because we live so close to New York City, will one day visit the 9/11 memorial to pay homage to another very special tree that has come to be known as the survivor tree,” said Pensak, who proceeded to tell the story of a tree that was originally planted at the WTC Plaza in the 1970s.
Workers who were clearing the sight discovered the badly injured pear tree. It was taken to a nursery and put in the care of a city parks worker. Although many thought that the tree wouldn’t survive, against all odds, it did.
“Over the years, even though it’s still baring the scars of 9/11, it grew tall and strong again,” Pensak said. “That is why it’s known as the survivor tree. It has been planted at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, and this tree is truly a testament to our ability to endure.”
During the ceremony, a recording of “All the World” was played, a song written last year by HES music teacher Thomas Sugar and his students. It was recorded at the school’s moving-up ceremony in June, which can be viewed on the district’s webpage. The opening lyrics, “All the world won’t forget, even if I don’t remember. All the world doesn’t yet understand that sad September,” signifies, in part, that the students who helped write the song were born around the time of 9/11.
“The video also shows artwork that the students drew of the twin towers,” Sugar said. ”We wanted to tie in the moving-up ceremony to the fact that many of these students were born around that time. That part of the video, with the song and artwork about 9/11, was very moving.”
Several staff members were touched by Tuesday's ceremony as well, including HES social worker Mozelle McQuade.
“It’s so meaningful having a celebration like this," she said. "And it’s really amazing to me that it's been 11 years.”