Stetson students remember 9/11 with flag-placing ceremony

ROTC cadets place little flags near the Stetson flagpole as a flag memorial for 9/11

First-year student Brandon Arwady was born three years after 9/11, but he joined two dozen Stetson University students who placed 2,977 small American flags near the Stetson flagpole in honor of each life lost in the terrorist attacks 20 years ago.

Student attends 9/11 flag ceremony
Brandon Arwady

“My parents actually worked for the government, for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the time,” said Arwady, a cyber security major and Army ROTC cadet. “They were somewhere near Queens and were able to see firsthand the events that transpired there. They were able to hear this commotion and see all the smoke.

“It was a traumatic experience for them, but it also taught me growing up that Americans are strong people,” he continued. “We build together based on our experiences. We learn as a culture and as a society and we push forward regardless of the struggles that are brought upon us.”

Veteran organizer attends 9/11 flag ceremony
Chris Griffin

The 9/11 flag-placing ceremony has been an annual Stetson tradition since the Student Veterans Organization created the event in 2012, the same year the SVO was founded. (However, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of last year’s ceremony.)

“We wanted to create a garden of flags as a memorial to 9/11 after seeing it happen at other places,” said Chris Griffin, an SVO member who served in Iraq in 2009-2010 as a medic with the 82nd Airborne. Griffin also is program manager for the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence.

“We went out and fundraised around campus,” Griffin said. “Different departments and people put in the money and we purchased the flags. There are 2,977 flags laid out for each individual who died on that day.”

Plaque gives details about the 9/11 flag memorial

The SVO may soon have to purchase more flags: The official 9/11 death toll is being amended to include people who died later from health complications, such as lung disease, initiated by the attacks, Griffin said. “That number is actually being updated this year.”

The SVO also is planning to purchase flags to represent the 373 foreign nationals who died in the attacks.

Savannah-Jane Griffin

Along with ROTC cadets, the flag-placing ceremony on Thursday also included participants from the First Year Seminar on “Global Citizenship: Individual, Community, World,” taught by Savannah-Jane Griffin, executive director of Community Engagement and Inclusive Excellence, and the wife of Chris Griffin.

The participating students were either very young or not born at the time of the 9/11 attacks. But many of them had personal stories passed on by their loved ones or had learned in school about the events of that day.

Student attends 9/11 flag ceremony
Erik Eisold

ROTC cadet Erik Eisold, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in business administration, recalled that his father, a pastor, and his mother and then-newborn sister were living in New Jersey at the time of the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan. His family witnessed smoke from the carnage miles away.

“It had an impact on them — it was a sad day,” Eisold said.

Aaryanna Kania, a 20-year-old sophomore majoring in international business, was six months old at the time of 9/11. While she noted that the “most formal way” she learned about that day was through school, she also said her grandparents are members of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle group that puts out flags on the anniversary of 9/11.

Aaryanna Kania

“I am always happy to participate in things like this because rather than think about the sadness of what happened, this makes me think about the positivity that comes across with a bunch of people coming together to put down the flags to remember those lives,” Kania said. “I like to think about the unity and the perseverance when doing events like these.”

Added Chris Griffin, “I like to believe students understand what this is about. That’s why we still do the memorial – to represent what happened and to have a discussion around that.”

The 9/11 Flag Memorial will be up until 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 13.

Rick de Yampert