Rebekah Sweyko, a freshman student at Missouri Southern State University, may have only been a few months old on Sept. 11, 2001, but she grew up understanding the significance of that fateful day, as both her parents are military veterans.
“Both of my parents lived around the New York area when 9/11 happened,” the 18-year-old said. “Sept. 11 impacted them a lot, and with them being veterans, it has been a major part to make sure that I know about it. My sister was born in New York City, so there’s a lot of family connections.”
She was among those in attendance Wednesday at MSSU's annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony on the campus oval where she and several other students reflected on the lives that were lost 18 years ago. The MSSU Gold Program presented the colors at the start of the ceremony, and Stacey Struble, a K-12 vocal education major, sang the national anthem.
Sweyko said she always tries to attend 9/11 remembrance ceremonies, Veterans Day events and Memorial Day activities to show respect and appreciation for those who have served in the military. She also works to share what she has learned to other people.
“Mostly everybody understands the importance of it, but at the same time, it’s kind of cool to impart the perspective of my parents or the perspective that I’ve grown up with or just the importance of military in general, and the significance of it to other people,” Sweyko said.
Darren Fullerton, vice president of student affairs, noted at the ceremony that more than 10,000 people who were first responders, or worked or lived in the area of the twin towers have been diagnosed with cancer or other illnesses as a result of 9/11. He said that as the years pass, it’s easy to forget to honor those who we’ve lost and who currently serve in the military.
Joplin police Chief Matthew Stewart, an MSSU alumnus, was the guest speaker at the event, and he shared his memories of the terrorist attacks. On Sept. 11, Stewart said he had just finished working an overnight shift when he heard about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
“At that time, many of us really didn’t know that our nation was under attack,” he said. “I went home, went to bed and I awoke hours later to learn of what happened during that day. I’ll never forget waking up, walking into the living room and finding my wife, who should’ve been in school that day, sitting at home, watching TV and crying. I remember asking what had happened. I thought maybe a family member had been hurt or something. But she explained to me what had gone on that day.”
Stewart said he then witnessed the extreme bravery of the men and women in public safety who responded to the disaster and worked tirelessly to bring those who did the country harm to justice.
“Over the next few years, we watched as our country held those responsible for these actions accountable,” he said. “After the tragedy of 9/11, I was very proud to be in law enforcement. I’m proud of the work that we did. I heard daily from folks who were appreciative of the work we did. Eighteen years later, I’m still proud to wear this badge and this uniform.”
With the ceremony, the university aims to teach the younger generations and incoming students to never forget what took place on Sept. 11, Fullerton said, no matter how long ago it took place.
“We feel like it’s an obligation to honor those that we’ve lost and those that serve, but also, our incoming freshmen were just born or may not have been born when this happened, so it’s too easy to forget,” he said. “We think that it’s part of our responsibility to help keep this out in the forefront and educate those students about what happened.”
The program was concluded with taps performed by MSSU student Jalen Ybarra.