Written by Elinor Aspegren
On Thursday, Sept. 11, students began to trickle into Gunn when they stumbled on flags dotting the lawn in front of the library. That morning, high school students began to plant United States (U.S.) flags in honor of the 3,000 who died in the Sept. 11 tragedy of 2001.
Junior Daniel Rutenberg’s mother got an email from the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) that put this idea into motion. According to their website, YAF chapters “bring together students to advocate for the ideas of limited government, individual freedom, free enterprise, traditional values and a strong national defense.”
Rutenberg said that his mom saw that this event was happening in other schools across the country and asked him if Gunn was doing it. When she learned it was not, she ordered some flags from the website. “13 years after that event, we felt that people were starting to forget 9/11,” Rutenberg said. “This idea was a good way to help people remember.”
According to Rutenberg, Principal Dr. Denise Herrmann made it easy for them to carry out this event. “Dr. Herrmann was very enthusiastic about it,” he said. Because it was a simple enough request, Herrmann had no problems allowing it. Herrmann said that it was nice to see parents and students to come together and intiate it. “If you want to empower our students to know that their ideas make a difference and that they should have a voice, you have to be open to those kind of ideas,” She said. “There were a lot of benefits for very little disruption.”
When first presented with the idea, Herrmann was totally behind it. “I think its important that people know that [the war on democracy] can be so close to home,” She said. The question was for her: how to rekindle the ideas spurred by Nov. 11, 2001. “It’s important for me because it’s a recent part of history, but far enough that you guys didn’t experience it yourselves,” she said.
Soon, other people started to help. “We were trying to get people start helping as people came off busses,” Rutenberg said. Nevertheless, he was glad for the support. Herrmann made sure that they put a picture in on the website. “I think it’s something that students could have detached from, but it seemed like by the attitude that people showed during that event and throughout the day, they made it okay to care,” she said. “It’s pretty mature of your thinking as a young adult, so I’m pretty proud of the students.”
Junior Max Mantin saw the demonstration after biking into school. “Someone handed me flags and I just started to help,” he said. The decision to help wasn’t a hard one for him. “I think it’s important not to forget this,” He said. “This demonstration is going to make me think about those lost for a time.” According to Herrmann, this event really showed that Gunn students care about the lives of others. “I think it also shows that we see unity in the United States,” she said.
According to Rutenberg, the 9/11 flag demonstration was a good one to have. “High schools are a good place to spread awareness,” he said. For Herrmann, there are many different pieces to the puzzle that all lead up to the Gunn environment, and that the memorial was one of them. “What makes a community strong is when all of the little things go back to show how we care,” she said. “I see this as another example of our students being active participants and trying to make our world a better place,” she said.
Mantin believes that the message shouldn’t be lost. “It makes me sad because [9/11] could have been prevented, but reassured because people haven’t forgotten it,” he said. “This really taught us a lesson – to be more careful.” If the students were to do it again, both Herrmann and Rutenberg would be behind it. “I hope it’s something we continue with, and I think that we could even further it,” Herrmann said.
The demonstration was taken down at the end of the day Thursday, but two flags still remained, to remind us all of the 3,000 dead from the Sept. 11th attacks until Friday.