For Rahul Vinayak, Sept. 11, 2001 was a career-defining day.
The Rutgers Business School senior was in fifth grade on the day of the attacks 13 years ago and was inspired by the selfless acts of the 343 firefighters who perished.
Vinayak attended the “9/11 Never Forget Memorial” yesterday at Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus.
The senior is now a firefighter for the North Brunswick Fire Department.
“On 9/11, my fire department in North Brunswick went to the city,” he said. “They dug through the rubble and slept in their fire truck for three nights. It was brutal, but worth it.”
He called the firefighters “local and national heroes” and knew that as soon as he became old enough to join, he had to be one of them.
Jacob Shulman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, has organized the memorial since 2012. Three thousand mini flags, arranged to look like the Pentagon, the Twin Towers and the words “Never Forget,” were set up on the Voorhees Mall lawn for the event.
Shulman orchestrated the event with support from the Rutgers University College Republicans, the Kappa Sigma fraternity, the Rutgers University Student Assembly and the Navy ROTC.
Six moments of silence were conducted throughout the memorial to commemorate the moments the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were struck.
After each moment of silence, groups of people shared their personal experiences and memories from that unforgettable day.
Marina Riley, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and member of RUCP, said her father and aunt both worked in the Philadelphia branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
“They weren’t allowed to leave work,” she said. “I didn’t know when they would get home.”
RUCP has organized the memorial since it recognized Rutgers wasn’t commemorating 9/11 in a special way. The memorial was initially held on Douglass campus, but was moved to the College Avenue campus in 2009 in an attempt to attract more traffic.
Shulman became involved with the memorial to remind Rutgers students, faculty and administrators of the day in history when Americans were unified.
“If you go to the city a lot, you hear people grunting and complaining. But on 9/11, everyone was in the same situation,” he said. “The biggest shock is when students come by and ask us what the memorial is for. We should continue this memorial so students don’t forget.”
Shulman said in the future, he hopes to see the memorial be an all-day event.
Although “9/11 Never Forget” is organized by RUCP, Rutgers University Democrats also attended.
“It’s not political,” Shulman said. “It’s an American cause.”
It’s not about religion either, said Elizabeth Williams-Riley, president and CEO of the New Brunswick-based American Conference on Diversity.
“One of the lessons that came out of 9/11 was, as a world, people from all cultures came together and learned that we are alike,” she said. “In the midst of something terrible, we can be united.”
RUSA President Kristine Baffo also participated in the memorial.
“No matter what ideology you are, lives were lost, and you have to respect family members, friends and people associated with that day,” said Baffo, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Over the past three years, the memorial has grown in numbers. Four students helped Shulman with setting up the event last year, but this year, more students assisted in preparing for the event. All in all, the event saw a threefold increase in attendees from previous years.
“It’s a day that exemplifies who Americans are, and what America is,” Shulman said. “We may be a bunch of different states, but we all got each other’s back.”