The joyous sounds of almost 1,000 teens and pre-teens permeated the halls of William T. Rogers Middle School Friday morning as they headed into the school auditorium. However, the children immediately took a respectful tone, small American flags in hand, as they filed into their seats for a ceremony that took a look back at the events of 9/11/2001.
The ceremony called A Day to Remember, organized by faculty members Anne Marie Holleran, who lost her younger brother Jonathan Ielpi in the collapse of the South Tower on 9/11, Beth Lafontana, friends and coworkers. The somber event included school administrators, Kings Park Board of Education members and several Kings Park families who lost a family member that fateful day.
Dr. Ralph Cartisano, Assistant Superintendant for Curriculum, Instruction and Personnel, was principal on 9/11. He shared some memories and thoughts about that day saying he and his fellow administrators made the decision to inform the students through an announcement made over the loud speaker.
“No one could have imagined the impact it would have on the students, the educators and the community,” said Cartisano.
Peter Mastrocinque was one of those students; he was a sixth grader on that day that his father perished in the towers. He sat quietly next to his mother Meryl, a Kings Park School District employee, during the reverent ceremony.
Maureen O’Brien, who was present for the ceremony and is a teacher at the school, lost her cousin and Kings Park resident Martin McWilliams, who was a New York City firefighter.
Anne Marie Halleran who lost her brother Jonathan said the events of 9/11 changed her life.
However, she told the students that it gave her comfort to know her brother died doing what he loved to do. She spoke about their childhood, his incessant teasing, his love of Pink Floyd music and the time he gave her the chicken pox.
“The most important thing to me was he was my little brother – not a day goes by that I don’t miss him,” she said.
Susan Agruso, district superintendent, was residing and teaching in another state the day our country was attacked, she spoke about unity and patriotism and the flags on the front lawn of the school representing all the victims of 9/11.
“Those flags symbolize our love of country and our love for each other – on that tragic day, the whole world saw what it meant to be an American,” she said.
The Butler family was also present at the ceremony. Bill Jr. was the keynote speaker; he lost his younger brother Thomas who was a firefighter, a former K.P.H.S graduate, a part-time Smithtown Bay Constable and a community member. Bill talked about the importance of the day in history and about the other victims from the Kings Park community that were lost.
“They were all gone in a blink of an eye and we (our family) had no one to bury, we had no closure,” he said.
His brother’s youngest boy Sean was only five months old at the time of his father’s death. When his uncle began to speak of his late father, the ten-year old gently dabbed his small eyes with a tissue to catch the tears that were escaping.
Bill Motherway, board president, . A bagpiper then played Amazing Grace. O’Brien followed with the songs America the Beautiful and God Bless America causing many of her co-workers to weep.
The children quietly processed out of the auditorium and out of the building led by administrators and the B.O.E. They walked past the sea of flags at the entrance of their school as they looked up at an enormous American flag suspended between two fire trucks. The flag, provided by Steve Butler was flown at Ground Zero.