From the archives: Vigil unifies WSU community after 9/11

A crowd of nearly 1,000 gathers Friday night to honor those who died in the attacks Sept. 11. 


Alexis Brown

A student at the candlelight vigil follows lead and makes his way to the steps of Grace Memorial Chapel to lay his candle down out of respect for victims of the Sept. 11 attack.

Sept. 17, 2001

Amidst national tragedy, the Wichita State community stood united and proud at the candlelight vigil Friday evening north of the RSC.

The 30-minute ceremony started at 9 p.m. and was a comfort for the nearly 1,000 students and faculty who wanted to show their respect for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

Some came to start the healing process, and others, such as junior Nate Crow, came “to release what had been built up the past week.” 

“For me, it’s been a real surreal week, and the realness finally hit,” senior Tom Angelo said. “There’s a lot of emotions and no outlet for them. But this [vigil] is a very good outlet.”

The evening brought tears and braceful hugs as speakers, such as SGA President Jason Bennett and WSU President Don Beggs, spoke of the acts that brought so much grief and mourning throughout the week, but also brought out the strength of the American people.

“Little can comfort a grieving heart, but we hope that the collective voice of an entire nation will bring a measure of comfort to those who are suffering so directly,” Beggs said during his choked-up remarks.

Rows and rows of students, faculty and friends stood between the RSC and Grace Memorial Chapel with lighted candles in one hands — some with flags in the other — and all with a look of sorrow on their faces. As the candle flames flickered in the crowd, the united and diverse WSU family looked more like an ocean of peace and hope for the unforeseen future.

Alexis Brown
Showing American pride, mourners surround themselves with friends and flags at the candlelight vigil Friday night.

“I think it shows we’re all fighting for one cause,” said Bruce Erickson, executive director of WSU Communications and Relations. “No matter what, we’re all together. Race, ethnicity, religion — all of that doesn’t matter: When you come down it, we’re all Americans.”

Ron Kopita, vice president for student affairs, said the event was put together and organized Thursday in a matter of hours by SGA, Student Activities Council and the residence hall staff.

It was a success.

“It was more than we expected,” Bennett said. “We felt we would comfortably have 100 in attendance.”

Organizers passed out hundreds of candles. Some students brought their own candles, and several others brought candles by the bagful for those who did not have one. The luminous glow created a healing atmosphere for those at the vigil. 

“It really made me feel good,” said Brianne Zienkewicz. “I saw some people linked by candles. It really made me feel like we’re united and nothing can break us down.”

Through a symbolic act, the crowd banded together.

“We didn’t expect people to put their candles on the steps [of the chapel] but it started and everyone followed,” said Susan Ratz, director of housing. 

“It was intangible,” Angelo said. “Just the feelings you got of people coming together and being there. That’s what it’s all about.”