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Miracles, compassion focus of 9/11 vigil

By Dan O'Brien
September 12, 2013

9/11 vigil 2013

A young man places a candle on the Boston Common Bandstand during Emerson's annual 9/11 vigil, on September 11, 2013. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

An alumna whose mother died on American Airlines Flight 11 said the tragedy has allowed her to understand miracles and have a greater appreciation for human compassion.

While addressing the sizable crowd at Emerson’s candlelight vigil commemorating the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Tita Puopolo ’96, MA ’97, said she has, “spent years on a spiritual path of healing.”

“I was hit by a car two years ago,” she said. “That’s why I’m in a wheelchair, but miracles do happen. And I’m going to tell you about miracles.”

 

9/11 vigil 2013

Lama Migmar Testen, Harvard's Buddhist chaplain, with Tita Puopolo '96, MA '97, and her friend Chris Lovitt at the 9/11 vigil on September 11, 2013. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

After emerging from her wheelchair to stand at the podium to address the crowd at the Boston Common bandstand, Puopolo held up a ring belonging to her late mother, Sonia Mercedes, which was found fully in tact on the woman’s left hand 11 months after the terrorist attacks—under 1.6 million tons of rubble at Ground Zero.

 

Puopolo

Puopolo addressing the attendees of the 9/11 vigil. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

“It just shows that miracles do happen,” said Puopolo, who stood despite being “told by all my doctors that I would never get out of my wheelchair.”

“We all have the power to heal,” she said. “The pain of losing a mother is the greatest pain that one can ever experience… [But] I want to say that, no matter what your loss, or who you lost, those people live in your hearts forever.”

 

students 9/11 vigil

Emerson students light candles at the 9/11 vigil. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Puopolo wrote the book Sonia’s Ring about the loss of her mother.

“The message is that we have to be kinder and more loving to one another as a humanity,” she said.

 

Mercedes Puopolo

Sonia Mercedes, the mother of Tita Puopolo '96, MA '97, was killed in the 9/11 attacks.

Rohan Notaney ’17 attended the vigil while draped in an American flag. “Events like this show how we need to come together as a nation,” he said.

 

9/11 vigil 2013

Rohan Notaney ’17, was draped in the American flag at the 9/11 vigil. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Lama Migmar Testen, a Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University, began the vigil with a prayer.

Emerson’s Communication, Politics, and Law Association organized the event with its advisor, Associate Professor Gregory Payne, to honor Mercedes, Jane Simpkin ’88, and faculty member Myra Aronson—three Emerson community members who died on 9/11. The first vigil was on the evening of September 11, 2001, and has been held on every anniversary since. Puopolo is a former CPLA president.

 

Associate Professor Gregory Payne, of the Communication Studies Department, has organized the 9/11 vigil for the past 12 years with the student group CPLA. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

“Sonia and Tita represent the best in life,” Payne said. “They say to live life to the fullest, each and every moment.”

Emerson President Lee Pelton spoke at the vigil, recounting his conversation with a student within hours of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings.

“As we rode down together in a dormitory elevator, [she] told me that her father had died on 9/11. He was a firefighter who sacrificed his own life,” Pelton said. “It was an extraordinary moment. I remember the look in her eyes, the look of poignancy that I shall never forget. A look of dignity that surpassed understanding.

 

Pelton 9/11 vigil 2013

Emerson President Lee Pelton reflects on 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings at the 9/11 vigil on September 11, 2013. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

“Later that evening,” he continued, “alone with my thoughts, I wept, thinking about her and her family, thinking about the victims of those senseless acts of evil, and, of course, thinking about our own Emerson community.”

“I knew that the days that followed April 15, just as 12 years ago, would define who we are and what we stand for,” Pelton said, before commending the three Emerson students who created the highly successful Boston Strong campaign that raised nearly $900,000 for bombing victims.

 

9/11 vigil 2013

Community members hold candles at Emerson's 9/11 vigil on September 11, 2013 at Boston Common. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Also in attendance were students from the Bird Street afterschool program in Boston who have been working on public service announcements with CPLA students. Puopolo announced the Sonia Mercedes Morales Puopolo Award for three of the Bird Street students to assist in their campaign and an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C.

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