Osceola campus goes all out to remember all 9/11 victims

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It was a sight to see on Tuesday afternoon at the Valencia College Osceola Campus where 2977 flags covered much of the grass area behind building 2 and even stretched well past the clock tower. The flags weren’t only American either, there were over 90 different nations flags represented in the display.

Volunteers had been working on the flag display since last week, in preparation for the 9/11 memorial ceremony. The memorial which was put together by Valencia College and the Rotary Club of Lake Nona; along with the help of various other sponsors, was not only meant to remember those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, but to also honor our first responders.

The Osceola campus was full of servicemen from all branches of the military, local police, firefighters and EMTs. The main entrance by the clock tower featured an array of service vehicles highlighted by two fire trucks hoisting a giant American flag.

After the Denn John Middle School choir finished singing God Bless America, a moment of silence was asked for those in attendance to honor the fallen during 9/11.

Dr. Kathleen Plinkse, president of Valencia’s Osceola Campus, welcomed the local emergency first responders, who got a standing ovation from the crowd. Dr. Plinkse got the idea for the memorial when she saw a similar flag display at Pepperdine University. That’s when she says, “I finally saw the magnitude of 9/11.”

Dr. Plinske spoke to the crowd, and again thanked the first responders and volunteers for making the memorial possible. She also announced that with the extra funds raised by the Rotary Club for the flag display, they will be starting a scholarship fund for current emergency responders wanting to continue their education.

Plinske spoke on the flags and what they meant, saying “Each flag represents a person killed that day,” adding later “Each flag represents a family in pain.” Out of the 2977 flags, almost 300 are representing someone from outside the United States, flags ranged from Canada to Japan and in between.

One of the other countries represented was Cuba, and next to that flag stood Professor Oscar Cuan, who himself is Cuban-American. When asked what he thought when he saw both of his nationalities in the flag display, Cuan said “I remembered the magnitude and impact didn’t just affect us here.”

Colonel Edward McHale gave a choked up speech honoring first responders, saying “we are privileged to have these people in our lives.” Colonel McHale who said first responders “show we care about each other as a community.” Also added that first responders “help us keep our promises to our loved ones.”

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of three wreaths, one representing firefighters and EMTs, another representing citizens and the last representing law enforcement. It was explained that there is tradition in the ringing of a bell, it either started the work day, of signaled the completion of the job. While three rings declared the end of one’s duties. The bell was rang three times for each wreath, nine times in all. Following the ringing of the bell, trumpets and bagpipes begin to play, leading to the end of the ceremony.

Students showed up after and before their classes to catch a glimpses of the ceremony, some even watched from the second floor of buildings one and two.

Ean Amiot was one Valencia student who took some time just looking at all the flags, he said it makes him think about “how many nationalities were affected, not just America.” Amiot was just ten years old on September 11, 2001, but he remembers the day quite well.

This was the first year Osceola campus has done something of this magnitude for 9/11, and for retired Air Force veteran Efrain Gonzalez, he hopes it’s not the last either. “The college did a fantastic job setting this up. Time heals the wounds, but the key must always be remember.” said Gonzalez.

The flags will be on campus till the end of the week, students are encouraged to take photos of and with the flags in remembrance of all those lives lost on 9/11. The week of remembrance continues on Wednesday with the showing of “Joyeux Noel” from 6:00 p.m – 9:00 p.m in the building one auditorium.