This 9/11, in the year 2021, the University of St. Thomas will pause and reflect on the 20th anniversary of the deadliest foreign attack on American soil.
Many brave soldiers were called to duty as a result of the four coordinated 9/11 terrorist attacks carried out by 19 terrorists associated with Al Qaeda. With initial deaths of 2,977 people – including the innocent at New York’s World Trade Center and surrounding area, those at the Pentagon just outside the nation’s capital and those aboard the flight that crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania – America went to war.
One of those killed at the World Trade Center was St. Thomas alumnus John Rigo '75. He majored in history and political science, lived in Ireland Hall and was a member of the All College Council and the College Republicans. He also loved a party, his wife Betsy told St. Thomas in 2008.
“He told me he wasn’t a particularly good student because he was having too much fun,” she said, “but he knew how to apply himself when he had to because he had such discipline.”
John’s name is on the list of victims at ground zero, where there is a Tribute WTC Visitor Center.
Living and learning meaningfully
Christopher Michaelson, the Opus Distinguished Professor of Principled Leadership, reminds us that the victims ranged from young children to retirees from more than 90 countries all along the economic spectrum.
“There were administrative assistants and accountants, security guards and custodians, financiers, firefighters and police, among others,” he said. “Most of them died simply because they showed up for work one Tuesday morning. Many others lost their lives when they ran toward danger to help. They all left loved ones behind.”
Michaelson asks the St. Thomas community to reflect on living and learning meaningfully so that the lives lost on 9/11 were not lost in vain.
In a three-part series on his podcast, “Work in Progress with Christopher Michaelson,” he speaks with several guests about 9/11.
The series includes conversations with Fred Price, an executive from investment firm Piper Sandler, which lost 66 people on 9/11; representatives of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Jackie Zins and Stacy Pervall; and Jennifer Tosti-Kharas of Babson College, with whom Michaelson has collaborated on research about meaningful work.
More than 900,000 deaths followed in the nearly 20 years of the global war on terrorism, according to the latest annual report from the Costs of War Project.
Just shy of the 20th anniversary date, the U.S. set a course to withdraw its military from the contentious mission in Afghanistan.
Most students at St. Thomas today who are witnessing the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan were either not born or were infants or toddlers when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened.
Clara Radloff, a St. Thomas senior, was a one-year-old in a Rochester, Minnesota, daycare on 9/11. She said her parents told her that there were sharpshooters in the trees nearby because Osama bin Laden had a relative in the neighboring federal prison.
Father Chris Collins, St. Thomas vice president for mission, was teaching high school in Milwaukee at the time. He and students watched the tragic events unfold on a television in the classroom.
“We take a moment now, 20 years later, to do what we can to pause and reflect, not only to recall those memories and to think about all the different ways the world has changed, but also what are our hopes for the future,” Collins said. “Out of all this pain has come different movements for solidarity for the whole human family."
Radloff said she studied abroad in Morocco and that as Americans we need to work toward having a different view of the Islam faith and Muslim people other than 9/11. “There is still brokenness there and we need to work to unite that.”
John Wagner ‘02 was a scholarship ROTC cadet at the University of St. Thomas on 9/11 and has spent his career in intelligence and counterterrorism.
“I think that before 9/11 most Americans didn’t know much about terrorism, Iraq or Afghanistan. Now folks tend to know more, but it’s still a mystery for many,” said Wagner, who is featured in a Newsroom story about reflections of 9/11 from the Class of 2002.
More on 9/11 thoughts and reflections can be found on the St. Thomas dedicated 9/11 page at the Center for Common Good. Collins hopes that it is a site community members will revisit several times.