September 11th and the Nobles Community by Bob Henderson, Head of School
Most of us remember with great clarity the cloudless, perfect, blue sky 10 years ago, early on the morning of September 11, as we headed off on our business with no sense of what the next several horrific hours would bring. The vast majority of the parents receiving this newsletter were not part of this community at that juncture, so I think it is important to let everyone know how profoundly the events of that day impacted the people who were here. Moreover, the story says a great deal about Nobles and how we navigate and endure such a crisis. This September 9, during a Friday morning Assembly, we will take some extra time for our 10th remembrance of those events, and hopefully your students will arrive home that evening with a fuller understanding of the importance of that day in a national context, as well as how deeply and indelibly September 11, 2001, is etched into the experience and consciousness of this school. The opening of school is a joyous time, full of anticipation and promise, yet it is also important to remember those sacrifices and powerful experiences that have forever shaped our identity.
We all recall exactly where we were and what we were doing at the moment we heard the news. I find it somewhat sobering that now, when I talk about this event in Assembly, many of the youngest students in the audience do not remember that day, although they probably have many impressions shaped by the media. My own memories are crystal clear—I walked out of a trustee committee meeting at 9 a.m. and my assistant at the time, Angela Camp, was listening to NPR. She informed me that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. As information began to flow in, it was accompanied by an immense amount of rumor, wild speculation and fear. Later that morning, as the situation in New York and Washington became steadily more horrifying and confusing, we assembled our crisis management team—a group that included our school counselors and senior administrators—and we outlined our response. We prepared messages for parents, and informed faculty how to be appropriately and fully supportive of students. We set up places for students to meet with counselors, and briefed everyone answering phones on how to reassure parents and others that everyone was safe and cared for. We established limited access to and from the campus, with security at our gates. And we made the decision to proceed for the time being with our normal daily academic and afternoon program schedules, to provide a predictable environment where we could easily account for everyone.
While the events that unfolded that morning were frightening for everyone, several students were more directly affected. These were students who knew they had a parent or relative in New York or Washington, or who knew they had a parent who had boarded a plane that morning. We quickly became aware of this, and we worked with counselors and families to help those young people manage the anxiety of that day. Gradually folks were accounted for, as phone calls got through and planes were swiftly brought back to airports all over the country. Very sadly, however, we learned that not everyone in our extended school community was safe.
Shortly after lunch on September 11, at 1 p.m., we gathered the entire school in Lawrence Auditorium. I related the facts as I best understood them, and I tried to lend perspective to the overwhelming horror of it all. The next morning we had an extended Assembly that ran for a couple of hours where we opened up the stage to anyone who had a thought to share. This was a special, powerful and cathartic moment for the community, as students of every age and their teachers came forward and spoke about the full range of topics and emotions that those events elicited, from the impact on individuals and families, to broad reflections on problems in the world. In the days that followed, there would be other gatherings, wrenching for everyone, as we headed off to funerals, memorial services, and receptions for those who were lost and their families.
By September 12, we had confirmed that three current and former Nobles parents had lost their lives on a doomed plane that left Boston headed for Los Angeles on that beautiful and terrible morning. They were Richard Ross, father of Franklin of the Class of 2002; Cora Hidalgo Holland, mother of Nate of the Class of 2001 and Jessica of the Class of 1997; and Sonia Puopolo, mother of Mark of the Class of 1990. While she was not a member of the Nobles faculty at that time, once she joined this community we learned that Spanish teacher Meg Jacobs had lost her brother, John Randall, in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. These losses brought the impact of September 11 especially close to home for everyone here at Nobles, and it has meant that our annual remembrance Assembly is particularly poignant and important.
This year, on the 10th such remembrance, Meg Jacobs will speak about her brother. We annually, in a gathering of all school employees, present to a particularly dedicated member of the school staff an award named for Cora Hidalgo Holland, given by her family in honor of Cora’s love and support for those individuals — this year, for the first time, we will also do this in the memorial Assembly. And annually I share the two paragraphs that follow about the victims connected to our community. These words address in many ways what I think is most important about a Nobles education and the values that bind us together:
“Richard, Cora, Sonia and John were victims of the deepest sort of intolerance, of fanaticism, of hatred driven by irrational ideology. They were all loving people whose lives were dedicated to their families. All four were aware of and thankful for the blessings that this life had bestowed upon them, grateful for the love with which they were surrounded, and for the opportunity to love others. In their own different traditions, they took solace in their faith. They were also generous and giving, with commitments to service and helping others less fortunate. These four were from different ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions, yet they all shared a connection, through the tragedy of that day, with this community and with each other. They represent a microcosm of all that is best in this country, and in this extended school community. Their loss was a stunning waste.
“We are left to derive meaning and purpose, not from death, but from the richness of their lives. It is our obligation to continue that dialogue and quest, to affirm life and direction from an act still so incomprehensible, for if we do not seek to understand, it will control and direct us against our will. From insanity and grief we must seize and restore rationality, morality and aspiration, and that will be the most profound measure of ultimate victory. With steady determination, we must affirm our values and principles as Americans and as human beings in the face of this most stark and egregiously violent challenge.”