Memorializing a tragedy

Sixth-graders at Steamboat Springs Middle School create mural in memory of Sept. 11

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"In remembrance of the tragedy of 9/11/01, Steamboat Springs Middle School students have recorded the names of nearly 3,000 victims. By remembering this loss we hope to inspire unity rather than exclusivity. We understand the strength, compassion and community found in combining the parts of the whole."
-- message scrawled on a Sept. 11 memorial made by middle school students


Sixth-grader Nastasja Rost, like many of her Steamboat Springs Middle School classmates, was just 8 years old when four hijacked commercial airplanes plowed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and an empty field in Pennsylvania.
As the third anniversary of the tragic events came and went last week, Rost and many of her peers said they had a better understanding of what transpired that day and its significance to the nation and the world.
Led by art teacher Talya Dornbush, Rost and about 100 other sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders memorialized the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, in a mural project that now hangs in the school's main hallway.
Borrowing from the oral tradition of reciting the names of people lost during tragic events, Dornbush and her students quietly spent Sept. 10 carefully writing the names of every victim who perished in the terrorist attack. It took Dornbush's classes more than six hours to complete, with some children even coming back during lunch to continue working on the project.
The mural grew as the names of the deceased filled more space than Dornbush anticipated. The three-part mural, a rather simple memorial of handwritten names on sheets of large, black paper, includes the numbers "9 1 1," a representation of the two World Trade Center towers, the word "Unity" and a peace symbol. Within each are the names of nearly 3,000 victims.
"I feel like it was a total success," Dornbush said. "We had the opportunity to be involved in a memorial."
Perhaps more important than the finished product is what students gained while working on it.
"I was so impressed with their sensitivity," Dornbush said. "They were so respectful. A lot of the kids in Steamboat haven't been to New York and may never go to New York. In spite of that, they were able to understand and be compassionate to other people's pain."
Many students recalled feelings of sadness and guilt while reading the names of victims they never knew, names such as Scott J. O'Brien, Angel Luis Juarbe and See Wong Shun.
"It was sad but encouraging," student Katie McNamara said. "It was encouraging that we were doing something to remember them. It just wouldn't be right if we didn't do anything about it because so many people died innocently."
"I felt like we learned more about the people and the attacks," Catherine Fischer said. "It made me feel guilty about all these people. Why wasn't I the one, and why did they have to die?"
Some students described feelings of helplessness.
"I think it's good that we did something to honor them," Keegan Rogan said. "But no matter what we do, it's not going to bring them back."
Others were able to understand the tragedy in a broader perspective.
"It's kind of weird to think that all these people who died had normal lives, and that their deaths affected so many people," Joanie Bier said.
In the end, all took away something from their work.
"I think they all felt relieved," Dornbush said. "I think middle school kids need to feel they have the opportunity to have influence on their society."
Artists often are called upon in times of tragedy to use their talents to memorialize significant events, she said. Now some of Steamboat's youngest artists can claim part of a project that helps reflect and recall one of this nation's saddest days.
"It's good to remember these people," student Luke Anderson said. "They can't just be forgotten."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234
or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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