Scholar’s Father Reflects on the Impact of Remembrance Week 2013

Mark Curtis, the father of current Remembrance Scholar Allie Curtis, joined the Syracuse community at the Rose Laying Ceremony during Remembrance Week 2013. Afterwards, he pieced together his thoughts in a post on his personal blog. We are happy to share the moving thoughts of both a proud parent and a member of Syracuse University’s Remembrance. You can read more from Mark Curtis on his blog here.

This weekend I attended a truly remarkable memorial event at Syracuse University which honored the 35 students from there who died in the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that horrible terrorist attack. Here are some thoughts:

“A True Remembrance” – One of the great things about this weekend was the introduction of the Remembrance Scholars. (In the interest of full disclosure, this year my daughter was one of the recipients.) Each year Syracuse chooses 35 students – one for each Syracuse victim – and gives them scholarships. The students are also given a duty to honor the memory of those they represent, and to work to improve their world, so that maybe such awful events won’t happen again. Each of the 35 recipients placed a white rose at the memorial (photo above) and told a story about one of the victims. Each of them paid a similar tribute. My daughter said, “I place this rose in memory of Frederick “Sandy” Phillips, and act forward in his memory.”

“Eternity” – The Syracuse tribute is remarkable, in that I don’t think it will ever end. One hundred years from now, I imagine they will be handing out another 35 scholarships. Why? Commitment. This was an institution badly wounded by this tragedy. Syracuse is a school which strongly urges its students to spend one semester studying abroad. It’s not a requirement, but pretty close. For any institution to lose 35 people in a single tragedy is almost unthinkable. But the scholarship program is well funded and the school’s commitment unshakable. In 1989 Chancellor Melvin Eggers said, “Your sons and daughters will be remembered at Syracuse University, so long as any of us shall live and so long as the university shall stand.” Amen!

“Shared Sacrifice; Shared Compassion” – For many years the Syracuse community honored just its 35 students. Then someone had the great idea that the University archives should collect information and news clippings on all of the 270 victims. The school also awards two scholarships each year to students in Lockerbie, Scotland, to come study at Syracuse. (Eleven residents of Lockerbie were killed, when the airliner debris fell on their homes). The communities of Syracuse and Lockerbie have essentially become sister cities. So much goodwill has come from so much evil. Good always wins out. We have to believe that. We must make it so.

“Twins” – As I looked at parents and family members who come year after year to honor those killed, I thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It could be any of our kids, on a plane to study anywhere, only to have their lives cut short by a terrorist attack. But my heart just broke learning that one family lost not one child, but two. Twins Eric and Jason Coker died on the flight, at the age of 20. How any parent survives the loss of one child, let alone two, is something I can’t even fathom.

“In His Own Words” – The Coker brother’s parents wrote this inscription on their memorial photos:

“Brothers they came in sweetness and beauty
Brothers together they left in God’s grace
Gifted by God with Goodness and Light
Their privilege, their burden
Kind in the land of uncaring
Virtuous in the land of the ambiguous
Giving in the land of the greedy
Sighted in the land of the blind
Aware in the land of the somnolent
May God let them and our love be one forever”

“The Ties that Bind” – One of the people I met at the event was Frank Duggan, who is the president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103. He became an activist for the cause, even though he did not lose a family member in the terrorist attack. I complimented him on his role, because I have covered the victims of many tragedies, including 9-11, and more recently the Boston Marathon bombings. Victims need advocates – people who will stand for them and stand behind them. “We helped a lot of the 9-11 families, by telling them what we did right and what we did wrong,” Duggan told me. It is sad that we need people to keep our national tragedies at the forefront, but it would be even worse if we didn’t have them. God bless people like Frank Duggan, and all those who were there Friday to try to help ease 25 years of pain.

“Why This Matters” – The world moves fast. Time marches on. We get busy with our lives. The next big thing happens. And we forget. We can’t. We must not. I’ll be honest. Had my daughter not attended Syracuse, my memory of Pan Am Flight 103 likely would have faded, too. Syracuse Professor Mark Glauser was the master of ceremonies for this profound event. He expressed concern that memories fade and that we forget the importance of these tragedies. But just weeks ago, it became real for his family once again. His daughter lost a dear friend in the terrorist attack at the mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Glauser pleaded with all of us not to forget, and the importance of keeping the world safe from such attacks in the future. A “Remembrance Scholar” program such as the fine one at Syracuse will go a long way to that end. May it, and the memories of the victims, live on forever.