At 8:45 on the morning of September 11, 2014 about one hundred Horace Mann School students, teachers, administrators, staff members, and members of the school’s security and maintenance staff gathered to share moments of peace and solidarity on the anniversary of that tragic day in U.S. history 13 years earlier that elicited opposite responses of pain, chaos and bewilderment. Standing together on Horace Mann’s Main Field, within the same half-hour that, on September 11, 2001 saw terrorists fly two planes into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center, this group of HMers collectively mourned the deaths that day of 2,977 people, and, no doubt, thought about how the world has changed in the days, months and years since.
The group streamed silently to the site where two European columnar hornbeam trees reach proudly toward the sky. HM Upper Division Head Dr. David Schiller convened the observance by asking the group to observe 60 seconds of peace. The thoughtful silence was followed by the soulful rendering of two melodies—a classical Adagio, and a hauntingly-familiar Irish tune “Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms” on flute played by Alexander Sherman ’17 and Asher Spector ’17. Representatives of the HM community, including students, teachers, and members of the school’s security and maintenance departments then took turns movingly reading through poet Walt Whitman’s 1865 elegy on the death of President Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d” The poem’s prescient line “My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships…” was particularly gripping. A second “60 seconds of peace” concluded the convocation, before the participants silently walked back across the field to their classrooms and campus responsibilities.
The ceremony took place before a small area that Horace Mann carved out at the edge of Main Field over the past summer to serve as a permanent 9-11 memorial. “We lost people on that day. Our community was deeply affected. We designed this area to serve as a memorial and as a place for reflection,” HM Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said of the semi-circle of boxwood plants that surround a 9-11 memorial plaque donated to HM by the Class of 2008. The plants draw one’s gaze up toward those two trees that were planted on September 10, 2002 and dedicated the following day. The trees were, at the time, about seven feet high, according to certified arborist Ken Almstead, who is CEO of Almstead Tree and Shrub Care Co., which maintains the landscaping of Horace Mann’s campuses. Pruned regularly to evoke the image of two separate columns, these commemorative trees now tower to a height of 30 feet, standing sentry over an athletic field in one direction, and a walkway between classroom buildings, in the other—with both providing a view into the energy of life and learning celebrated on every other day of the Horace Mann school year.