UConn Health Remembers 9/11 Nineteen Years Later Virtually

Andrew Agwunobi M.D., chief executive officer of UConn Health, speaks at an event to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 held at the UConn Health Academic Rotunda on Sept. 11, 2020. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

This year on September 11 the UConn Health community gathered virtually together online to mark the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The remembrance ceremony was livestreamed of the event participants and guest speakers social-distancing in-person in the large Academic Rotunda at UConn Health paying their annual tribute to the thousands of lives lost that day.

“We are here today to remember the almost 3,000 victims killed in the September 11 attacks and the aftermath,” said UConn Health CEO Dr. Andy Agwunobi. “There were about 161 people with close Connecticut ties who died that day. We are here because we must never forget those we lost in the attack and those that died trying to save them.”

“Life as we knew it changed at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time on September 11, 2001,” said State Senator Gennaro Bizzarro (6th Senate District – Berlin, New Britain, Farmington) who gave a very moving 9/11 tribute. “We vowed to never forget and we renew that vow by this ceremony today.”

The commemoration included UConn Health Honor Guard’s presentation of colors, bagpipers, the singing of the national anthem and “Amazing Grace,” a special reading of the song “Imagine” and poem written and read by UConn Police Officer Susan Kassey, a moment of silence, the playing of FDNY 9/11 dispatch recordings, and ringing of bells to honor those lost on 9/11 including more than 400 first responders of firefighters, police officers, and healthcare professionals who died while trying to save others.

“UConn Police Officer Susan Kassey graciously leads this special remembrance event every year. Thank you Sue for bringing our campus together even virtually during these trying times to make sure that we never ever forget what happened on that September day,” said Agwunobi.

Kassey recited the song “Imagine” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono sharing:  “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, who participated via a live videoconference, couldn’t agree more with the song’s lyrics and its symbolism for both 9/11 and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“I love that song by John Lennon, Imagine. That was the defining song for me growing up as a young person,” shared Lamont. “It reminds us of our common humanity. If we can learn from that, learn from that little sense of common purpose, these tragedies become building blocks I hope for a better tomorrow – and that’s what the song Imagine is all about to me.”

Additionally in the Governor’s address to the UConn and UConn Health communities Lamont shared: “Given all the tragedy, the people that we lost, the moments of heroism, the first responders when it came to 9/11 – the firefighters running into the burning building. Here with COVID maybe they were nurses, maybe they were daycare operators, maybe they were food service workers – we call them essential workers. Those little acts of heroism help define that event for me and hopefully for all of you as well.”

UConn Health CEO Agwunobi delivered a heartfelt recounting of how UConn Health emergency personnel such as retired UConn Health Fire Chief William Perkins and Dr. Robert Fuller, current chair of emergency medicine, among others, dropped everything to also respond to New York City’s Ground Zero. “Thank goodness they returned, not everyone did,” stressed Agwunobi. In fact, the lives lost that September day included 412 emergency workers who were killed after rushing to the scene to help.

The new UConn President Tom Katsouleas also attended the annual UConn Health 9/11 ceremony for the first time.

“No matter how much time passes, the tragic loss of life nineteen years ago including so many sons and daughters of the state of Connecticut and many members of the UConn family, is still vivid and terrible in our memories,” said Katsouleas. “It’s particularly poignant to have the ceremony here at this place so committed to caring for and preserving human life. And to have it now in the context of the current pandemic crisis in which human life is threatened by a scourge of a different type.”

Katsouleas added: “The image of the firefighters running into danger nineteen years ago is burned into our brains just as the images of health workers here and across the world selflessly putting themselves in the line of COVID fire. Your courage and commitment exemplify the best of humanity, of our values, and what makes us resilient as a society. Through your deeds, more than we can ever do through these speeches, you honor the memory of those who lost their lives on that terrible day. Thank you for reminding us today and forever that together we can bear any burden and overcome any obstacle.”

Bizzarro also compared the country’s incredible response to 9/11 to the present-day COVID-19 response.

“The heroism of our first responders, the courage and selflessness of first responders was on full display on that fateful day 19 years ago, and has been every single day since then — from the first responders who gave their lives to rush into burning buildings 19 years ago to the healthcare workers who risk their lives battling the deadly COVID-19 disease today.”

Bizzarro also stressed: “As a proud Connecticut resident, as a father, as a husband, and as your State Senator I thank all of you here at UConn Health for your ongoing commitment to compassion, your commitment to honor those words that we shall never forget. Through your commitment to lifesaving research and patient care, and your commitment to making UConn Health a place of healing, and a place with a stellar reputation for innovation and excellence.”

Bizzarro also thanked UConn Health and its healthcare workers for remembering and understanding the true meaning of ‘United We Stand’.

Agwunobi passionately concluded in his final remarks: “Nineteen years has taught us that we are resilient, we overcome but we do not forget. Despite pandemics, hurricanes, recessions, wildfires – we never forget.”

The ceremony ended with a beautiful bugler’s rendition of “Taps.”

Watch the replay of UConn Health’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony: http://mediasite.uchc.edu/mediasite41/Play/46d7b509626d4d40830247560e2166271d