Hundreds came to Bovard Auditorium in the heart of the USC campus to remember 9/11 on Sunday. But USC president C. L. Max Nikias asked everyone to also honor the spirit of 9/12.
“It was on 9/12 that we came together,” Nikias said. “It was then we reconnected ourselves to our families, our communities and our country.”
In that spirit, Nikias accepted a challenge from the White House to expand 9/11 from a day of memorials to a day that also calls for action. After the ceremony, students began what will be a yearlong project of community service based on interfaith education and leadership.
“What better way to show our strength as a campus,” Nikias said. “As you go out into the community, I encourage you to be the kind of person who enriches the world.”
From the stage adorned with a single candle, an American flag and two pillars of smoke and light in the darkened auditorium, Nikias officially launched USC’s involvement with the White House’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, an initiative inviting institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus.
Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said it was only fitting that such a gathering take place at USC, which has more religious groups and international students than any other university in the United States.
“We know on that day they were not just trying to hit our buildings but our values,” Villaraigosa said. “When we refused to systematically persecute one faith, one group of people, we reaffirmed who we are and our values.”
The gathering, organized by the USC Office of Religious Life and the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, featured many of USC’s religious leaders, including the dean of religious life Varun Soni, former dean Rabbi Susan Laemmle, Father Lawrence Seyer and Imam Jihad Turk.
“Today we remember 9/11 even though it was never forgotten,” Soni said. “All of our lives dramatically changed during those dark days.”
Soni said that more than 90 countries were represented in the deaths in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
“We mourn together as a global Trojan Family,” Soni said. “Let this moment of remembrance be a call to action and engagement.”
Soni said 9/11 had a profound impact on the students currently at USC, who would have been roughly between the ages of 8 and 12 at the time of the terrorist attacks.
Monish Tyagi was 11 years old and in the sixth grade in 2001.
“I remember questioning the injustice,” Tyagi said. “Those were some of my most transformative years.”
Today Tyagi is president of the USC Undergraduate Student Government. He said he is proud how his peers reacted to those tragic events – with kindness and interfaith collaboration.
“Our generation showed a response that was new and fresh but rooted in the traits of how our country was founded,” Tyagi said. “The people of our generation have grown up in an extraordinary time.”
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