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Alumni, students remember 9/11

Demi Vitukute '17 and Tina Safford '18

Demi Vitkute '17 and Tina Safford '18 at the annual 9/11 vigil on Boston Common on Friday, September 11, 2015. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

More than 100 people from Emerson and the Boston community gathered at the Gazebo of the Boston Common on Friday evening, September 11, to remember the lives of those lost on September 11, 2011, in an annual vigil hosted by Sonia Tita Puopolo ’96, MA ’97; Communication Studies Chair Gregory Payne; Emerson’s Communication, Politics, and Law Association (CPLA); and Sandra and John Talanian.

Puopolo, former president of CPLA, who obtained a master’s degree in government from Harvard University in 2001, lost her mother, Sonia Mercedes Morales Puopolo, who was on American Airlines Flight 11.

Tita Puopolo and Greg Payne

Sonia Tita Puopolo '96, MA '97 and Communication Studies Chair Gregory Payne at the 9/11 vigil on September 11, 2015. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

The vigil began with an introduction and overview. According to Payne and Puopolo, it is the oldest continuously running 9/11 vigil. It began to honor the life of the elder Puopolo but grew to honor all the people who died on 9/11, as well as victims of terrorism and violence worldwide.

Among the lives honored were Emerson alumna Jane Simpkin ’88 and faculty member Myra Aronson, who both died on 9/11.

“The 9/11 vigil helps the community come together in a positive way with the intention to spread more healing and love,” Puopolo said.

The vigil consisted of lighting candles, sharing stories, and reading poems and excerpts from Sonia’s Ring, a book Puopolo wrote after the loss of her mother, whose sentimental ring was recovered from underneath 1.6 million tons of rubble at Ground Zero.

Puopolo read a love letter from her father to her mother in an excerpt from the book, which features themes of resiliancy and how to heal one's heart.

9/11 Vigil in 2015

At the 9/11 vigil on September 11, 2015, from left, are Communication Studies Chair Gregory Payne, Demi Vitkute '17, Tina Safford '18, and faculty member Mohamed Khalil. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Tina Safford ’18 and Demi Vitkute ’17 helped organize the 9/11 vigil and shared kind thoughts during the event.

“It’s not just about 9/11; it’s about victims of terrorism worldwide,” Payne said. “It’s about reflecting on Emerson’s mission to be a source of communication and looking to the soft power of persuasion to resolve conflicts rather than hard power.”

Under Payne’s leadership, the Communication Studies Department in recent years began a civic engagement program with the Bird Street after-school center in Boston for at-risk youth, and the Saudi-American Exchange, a diplomatic grassroots public diplomacy program.

Mohamed Khalil, a Communication Studies faculty member and a native of Saudi Arabia, said that love and togetherness is important, and that he helps educate his students to better understand one another.

“It was easy after 9/11 to find hate everywhere, but today we are talking about love,” Khalil said. “We are here today not to feel mad or sad; we are here today to feel our humanity.”

John Talanian, who lost numerous coworkers and friends on 9/11, has attended the annual vigil a number of times since he first discovered it in 2007. Talanian worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, a company whose offices were in the World Trade Center and lost 658 employees on 9/11.

John Talanian

John Talanian, who lost numerous friends and coworkers in the 9/11 attacks, speaks at the vigil on Boston Common on September 11, 2015. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Talanian, who attended the vigil with his wife, Sandra, spoke openly about how his trauma led him down a path of destruction and darkness, which eventually was turned around by his desire to heal.

“This particular 9/11 vigil has allowed someone like me to have a place to grieve and share my story, and to help me heal by telling it,” he said. “If I didn’t have this [vigil] to come to, it would be a much sadder day for me.”