The message was clear: build on what has been awakened in America and do not let the deaths of Sept. 11 be in vain. On a night that started out warm and progressively became colder and windier, the resolve of a small group gathered for a candlelight vigil at Hilbert College in Hamburg was strengthened.
In an outdoor gathering on Oct. 24, students and community members celebrated United Nations Day with inspiring words from community leaders and by taking comfort in each other.
As the national anthem was sung by Terri Bass, a Hilbert student, the crowd began to light candles and attempted to keep them lit against the chilling wind. Many gathered in huddles to keep their candles lit, as a barrier against the cold and to comfort each other. The invocation was offered by Sister Edmunette Paczesny, the president of Hilbert College, followed by Sister Emily Therese Bloom, a trustee of the college.
"Peace and all good is more meaningful than ever before," said Bloom, referring to a phrase often related to St. Francis of Assisi. "May the light of the candles be the symbol of hope. Tonight we are all survivors."
The gathering of about 50 people was appropriately solemn, but laughter and joking could be heard as attendees chatted and listened to patriotic songs such as "Coming to America" and "God Bless the U.S.A." between speakers.
When Vice President of Student Life James Sturm stepped up to the podium, he spoke of the "sleeping giant" of patriotism that was awakened on Sept. 11.
"Back in July, I can remember hanging a flag and having someone ask why," said Sturm. He went on to say he hoped the heightened awareness and acceptance of other cultures would continue as well as the intensified interest in global politics.
Kara Sommer, 19, a student at Hilbert College and a private first class in the U.S. Army was next to speak. Sommer worked with her local company at New York's Ground Zero in a number of different capacities.
"Some of the things we did was security for the perimeter of Ground Zero," said Sommer, who spoke passionately about the people who came from far away to help in any way they could in New York City.
"Millions of people came that we had to turn away," said Sommer, explaining that they didn't want to refuse volunteers, but it was part of the company's job. Only rescue workers from New York and New Jersey were permitted to work at the site.
"It is those people that died that we should say thank you to who brought our nation closer together," said Sommer at the conclusion of her speech.
Jerry Perez, executive vice president of marketing and design at Fisher Price, was the next to speak and illustrated the wide variety of speakers present at the vigil. Perez focused primarily on how to approach the issues of Sept. 11 and the effects it has on children.
"It's funny how something that happened more than 500 miles away could feel like it happened next door," said Perez. "Talking about this [with children] made the birds and the bees look like a cake walk."
Also stepping up to speak was Hamburg Councilwoman Kathy Hochul. She spoke of the small acts of kindness she had noticed since the disaster, such as an apologetic screening official at the airport and the fact that her young daughter gave all of her money to a fund for the victims' families.
"Let us not take people for granted anymore," said Hochul. "Be changed for the better."
The event was very well received; attendees clapped and waved flags as patriotic songs were played between speakers. "United We Stand" T-shirts were also for sale with proceeds going to the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund.