The ties that bind: Despite generational gap, SU community continues to connect with Pan Am 103
Sam Maller | Asst. Photo Editor
Remembrance Week: Part 2 of 4
A pained Syracuse University community has gone through different stages of grief in the last 24 years.
SU continues to celebrate the lives of the 35 SU students who died during the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. But the way the university celebrates has changed.
“It has certainly evolved as it needed to,” said Tom Wolfe, dean of division of student affairs. “You can’t stay in the same place at the same time forever.”
Eileen Monetti, mother of Pan Am 103 victim Rick Monetti, said the feelings have transformed from ones of shock to ones of commemoration. It is this current stage of remembrance that makes her feel closer with recent Remembrance Scholars — those of the past 10 to 15 years — than those who came before them.
For her, the relationship between parents of the victims and scholars has evolved into one of grandparents and grandchildren.
This year marks the 24th anniversary of the terrorist bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, leaving many students born after the tragedy decades removed from the event. Despite the generational gap, SU students look forward — still honoring the victims and applying their stories to today’s events.
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988 and killed 35 students returning home from study abroad programs in London and Florence. The tragedy is recognized annually with a week of events honoring the lives of the victims. Remembrance Week is run partially by 35 SU seniors, one for each student killed, selected as Remembrance Scholars.
Remembrance Scholar Jesse Feitel said for most students on campus, 9/11 represents their generational moment. But, he said, many professors, staff and administrators on campus see the Pan Am bombing as a defining moment for their generation.
Multimedia, photography and design professor Lawrence Mason wrote a book on the bombing, and taught eight of the students killed in the disaster.
“I think the generational gap exists and I think it’s more an issue for those of us who do remember Pan Am 103 to try to find a way to resolve the gap,” he said.
He aims to incorporate his experiences with Pan Am 103 into every class he teaches.
During the summer, Mason teaches fashion photography courses in London. For the past few years, Mason has taken the students to do a photo shoot in Lockerbie. On the group’s last day in Scotland, they are taken to the site where the nose of Pan Am 103 crashed.
“Today’s students, 23, 24 years removed from what happened, before they were born, will almost always feel the moment and tear up,” he said. “I don’t mean for them to tear up, but I think by taking them there, and talking about what happened there, they feel what, until then, may have been an abstract idea for them.”
Geri Clark, professor of drama, said the current generation of students easily look up information on the bombing online rather than try and make a close, more personal connection with the victims of the tragedy.
She was very close to several of the students killed in the bombings. She received letters from them while they were studying abroad in London.
Clark said students on campus today need to look at the bombing and the students who were killed and learn that everyone should make the most of the time they are given.
“That’s a story that everybody needs to be told, especially when students are, quite naturally, at probably the most risk-taking time of their lives,” Clark said.
But others, like Remembrance Scholar Alise Fisher, know their stories. Freshman year, Fisher lived on the same floor as the two Lockerbie Scholars her age, developing a connection to Remembrance Week.
“I became really good friends with one of them and he’s been telling me, ‘You need to apply to be a Remembrance Scholar. You need to apply,’” Fisher said.
Although the generational gap presents an issue as to how society remembers history, the overall meaning of Remembrance Week is “universal,” said Judy O’Rourke, director of undergraduate studies and recording secretary for the Pan Am 103 victims group.
O’Rourke and others hoped the Pan Am disaster would be something people could learn from to prevent future terrorist attacks, she said, but 9/11 shattered that hope.
“There are moments when I think human beings will never learn and then there are moments when I think, well, there’s hope,” she said. “Individually people really are good and people treat each other and try to treat each other well.”
But connecting to the disaster can be difficult. For many students, the bombing is so distant that they can’t relate.
Remembrance Scholars work to close this gap and strengthen the connection.
Perry Russom, a Remembrance Scholar, said the newly renovated Wall of Remembrance, which was recently completed, serves as another reminder to students of the week’s events.
Websites, personal research, stories, the university archives and event planning for the week all contribute to scholars’ knowledge of the victim he or she represents. Russom said the scholars are learning something new seemingly every day and at every meeting.
Eileen Monetti, the mother of victim Rick, said an important aspect of remembering is realizing the Pan Am 103 case isn’t closed. Though Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted in the bombing, died in May, investigations are ongoing and many suspect others were involved.
Frank Duggan, president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 Inc., said the continuing efforts of the Remembrance Scholars and the university show the generational gap in a positive light.
“There are very few issues that last that long, and this is one of them,” he said.
As the years go by, some of the victims’ family members have passed away, Duggan said, but this does not mean their families will stop remembering. There are children and grandchildren that will keep their memory alive.
Preparations have already begun for next year’s Remembrance Week, which will mark the 25th anniversary.
“My population of professors who were here and taught the victims is getting smaller every year,” Mason said. “We’re trying to find a way to do something or various things that will survive all of us that had anything to do with Pan Am 103 and make it very forward looking for SU.”
Published on October 23, 2012 at 3:03 am