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9/11 Vigil Aims to Heal Through Sharing Stories

In an evening focused on bridging communication gaps, members of both the Emerson community and Boston community at-large gathered at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common in a vigil to remember the impact left upon the world after September 11, 2001.

Organized by the Emerson Communication, Politics, and Law Association (CPLA), the 16th annual vigil is one of the longest-running in the entire nation for the remembrance of 9/11, offering a place for those directly and indirectly affected by the events of the day to reflect upon the definitions of loss, compassion, resilience, and humanity. Among those honored were Emerson alumna Jane Simpkin ’88 and faculty member Myra Aronson, who both died on 9/11.

Of those who spoke, it was the direct stories of Emerson alumna Tita Puopolo ’96, MA ’97, former CPLA president, and John Talanian that offered the rawest glimpses into a mind and heart trying to understand humanity after facing loss on 9/11.

Puopolo, who lost her mother aboard American Airlines Flight 11, reflected on her relationship to those around her, to American society, and to the pain and uncertainties that must have been permeating not only the United States, but also cultures abroad.

“It’s genuinely easy to feel like the cause of your pain can be placed entirely on another culture, unaware that they’re hurting…as well,” Puopolo said. “As months and years passed, I’m glad that we could still find a common strong foundation from all of this, to allow us to exchange thoughts, words, and emotions.”

Talanian emphasized how the yearly presence of the vigil helped him heal faster than he could have without it. As a financial advisor for the firm Cantor Fitzgerald, Talanian lost 658 colleagues when the North Tower was struck. The firm’s headquarters were situated between the 101st and 105th floors of the building, making it impossible to get out due to the devastation of the stairwells beneath, he said.

“[I] think it becomes something different when you meditate on it,” Talanian said of his loss. “It becomes a message of humanity that you want to share—not just the message of 9/11, because it’s easy to get caught up in the politics of news, but understanding that in times of tragedy there are always heartwarming stories, that what humanity sees in the moment is that there is another life that needs help.”

Communication Studies Chair Greg Payne asked those at the vigil to offer a single word describing what healing after 9/11 entails; in response, he received words like “perseverance,” “strength,” and “understanding.”

Three students who have worked on communication projects with Payne during their time at Emerson spoke about their experiences using the arts as a vehicle for connection, from the streets and stadiums of Barcelona and Lisbon, to the campus of Kent State University, to the border between San Diego and Tijuana.

“I think at times we forget the profundity of the human condition,” said Communication Studies major Amelia Semprebon ’18, reflecting on the vigil afterward, “that we can harbor hate simply based on misinformation, that we can collectively put our pains and burdens onto another individual or group of individuals because we don’t know how to communicate what we ourselves are feeling.

“And it’s by creating these channels of communication, such as the vigil, such as the work in the Tijuana-San Diego border, that we can allow ourselves to openly examine what we know or might not know,” she said.

Political Communication major Matthew Enriquez ’20 said understanding what’s driving a pain or experience is just as important and taking steps to address them.

“It’s like building a story from other stories,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say that the vigil has allowed a story to continue growing. Regardless of the years that pass, the memories don’t.”




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