MCALLEN — Eduardo Rivas and his fellow students bowed their heads, standing in silence in front of Lamar Academy as American flags lay planted in the ground before them, a gesture to honor the victims of the deadliest terrorist attack on the nation.
The Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth political organization with a local chapter, held a ceremony as part of the 9/11 Never Forget Project at Lamar Academy. These students planted nearly 3,000 flags in front of the campus to remember the life of each victim killed on Sept. 11, 2001, with coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon.
Students, teachers and community members walked by the small flags that were planted on the ground as Rivas and his fellow organization members recounted the details of the historic day. After they finished presenting the details of the attacks and its impact on the victims, they held a moment of silence.
“For students who walked today, I really hope that they understand the meaning of what it is to remember not only events in history but also how to commemorate … but also how we keep the memory of those victims and of those that were impacted alive,” Lamar Academy Principal Jeanette Nino said.
Many of these students were born after that attack, but wanted to memorialize and keep honoring the dead.
Rivas, 17, is the chairman of Young Americans for Freedom at Lamar. This project is student-led and began in July. Groups such as the American Legion, a nonprofit organization that advocates for veterans, helped set up and provide the flags, he said.
Nino said she met with Rivas before the school year and this was a “purposeful topic.”
The campus collaborated with the staff along with community support to follow through to set up the ceremony.
Rivas’s parents told him about the 9/11 attacks when he was around 8 or 9 years old, he said. This helped him understand American values of freedom and the threats to those ideals. This also is a reminder that many take those values for granted.
This gave the opportunity to have his classmates and community members to learn about 9/11 as a historic event, he said.
“My class (is) actually the first generation to have either been born during 2001 or after 2001, so because of that, they have very little memory of what happened on 9/11,” Rivas said.
David Lee, 17, organization vice-chairman, was born a year after the attacks.
“I think that 9/11 was a momentous moment in our history as a nation, knowing that there is definitely a threat out there… a threat out there for our freedom, and for our people,” Lee said.
The United States is a diverse country with people of various backgrounds contributing different ideas, he said. There is strength in that diversity, he said.
“I think that learning that there is that threat out there should be something we shouldn’t take for granted,” Lee said. “We should sort of respect and take in the amount of rights that we have in this nation compared to the other parts of the world.”
He said it’s an honor to memorialize those who made sacrifices, along with the firefighters and policemen responding to ground zero during the attacks.
The student group set up flags on Tuesday afterschool, he said.
“It was obviously a very delicate task, they’re not heavy flags… we had to be very persistent with how we organized them,” he said. “Each flag represents a life that was fallen, there’s a total of 2,977 flags, because there (was a) total of 2,977 people that (lost) their lives during 9/11.”
Even though he was not alive during the event and it’s commemorated every year, he wanted to keep the memory of the victims of the attack and this history that surrounds it in people’s minds.
“As the years have gone by from elementary to high school, they emphasized it a lot less, I think that was something that I saw as why, I think we should keep it at the same level and doing the ceremony was a way of giving back to my community,” Lee said.
Despite being born after the terrorist attacks, preserving the memory of 9/11 and its victims became an important motivation for student leaders to hold the ceremony.
“I still consider it significant whether or not they were born after 9/11 or after… I still think that people should see it as important,” Rivas said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated for clarity.