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The Eternal Bonds of September 11

The tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 was commemorated less than two weeks ago. Cornell organized “Reflections on 9/11” (, with a community-wide ceremony on the anniversary itself and several other programs which were run throughout the week. However, at least for me, the tidal wave of emotion that was caused on 9/11 seemed like it had faded to mere ripples on the Cornell campus this year. It is not up to the university to put its students in a somber mood. That mood is simply absent because of the lack of connection between Cornell students and the people directly affected by the events of September 11. I do not mean to insult anyone here; the cousin of one of my close friends was murdered in the September 11 attacks and I am sure many others do know someone who was killed or affected by the attacks. However, I know that Cornell is a diverse community and many people do not have those same connections. As such, if the community at Cornell were represented as a connected component there would be relatively few edges from that component to the victims of September 11. Many of these connections are weak, and will remain that way because there is no opportunity to develop relationships with those who have passed away.

Still, there is a large community that does have strong connections to 9/11, namely the family of the victims. This year, the 9/11 Memorial in New York City was dedicated. This press release was sent out by the memorial museum the day before the dedication ceremony and describes the program for the day. The article describes how the names of all those killed on September 11, 2001 are engraved in bronze and arranged around two large pools. What is extraordinary about this is the following:
“Unlike any other memorial in existence, the names of the victims are arranged not in a conventional order, but by meaningful adjacencies. These layers of meaning reflect where people were, who they were with on 9/11, and more than 1,200 requests made by victims’ next of kin for individual names to be next to one another.”
The memorial for 9/11 is a graph, displaying the eternal edges between those who died that day. The press release also includes the stories of several of the people whose families requested adjacencies. I encourage everyone to read these stories, as they are demonstrations of true heroism. What is striking about these stories is that many of the people whose names are adjacent did not know each other at the beginning of September 11, 2001, yet they instantly created edges between them stronger than most relationships we will ever experience.

In contrast to the Cornell network which, ten years after 9/11, has weak connections to the victims, this network is probably filled with the strongest bonds possible. These bonds connect not only families to their loved ones, but also connect those who met each other in the last hours of their lives. The stories created instant triadic closure between completely separate families and served to eternalize these network connections. People who had never met before that day now come together to remember their loved ones who died together.  And the truth is that, however disconnected we may be from the events of that day, we can join the ranks of those connected by eternal bonds. Project 2996 contains testimonies and tributes to many of the victims of 9/11. It would take eight years to read the tributes to each of these victims reading one a day, and 250 years reading one a month, and I encourage everyone to try to connect to those who died by reading at least a few of them. 9/11 should not be forgotten simply because we have weak connections to those who died that day. It should not be commemorated only one day a year. Those who died should be remembered by every person, whether we knew them or not, because the whole world should be connected to September 11.

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