Posted on Aug 15, 2002

Tribute of 3,000 flags to symbolize the losses of September 11

Ceremony to reaffirm founders' goal of creating ‘union of all faiths'

At opening ceremonies on September 11, one of the nation's oldest non-denominational colleges will pause to reflect on the losses of last year's terrorist attacks and reconsider the meaning of its name.

Throughout the day, members of the Union College community will place some 3,000 flags – one for each of the lives lost in the terrorist attacks – in a central green on campus. By the end of the day, the campus community will have created a powerful symbol of the enormous human toll of last year's tragedy.

That evening, the College will dispense with the traditional agenda for opening convocation, usually a lively, colorful affair at which dean's list students and outstanding teachers are loudly applauded. Instead, a procession of faculty, students and staff will circle the campus on their way to Memorial Chapel.

At 8 p.m., the campus community will gather in Memorial Chapel for a ceremony of remembrance. There will be an address by President Roger Hull and remarks from representatives of the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant faiths. The convocation will conclude at the central green and the flag tribute with a candlelight ceremony and the playing of “Taps” (the bugle call composed by Daniel Butterfield, an 1849 graduate of the College who served as a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War).

“This September 11, the College will commemorate the human and emotional toll of last year's terrorist attacks,” said Roger H. Hull, president of Union College. “We will also reaffirm the values that our founders had in mind 207 years ago when they created a ‘union of all faiths.' Now more than ever, the word ‘union' and all that it suggests – diversity, understanding and tolerance – has a special meaning on this campus and across the nation.”

Union College had its beginnings in 1779 when a group of senior elders at local churches petitioned the brand-new state legislature for a non-denominational college that would be a “union of all faiths.” But with the Revolutionary War raging throughout New York, the full legislature failed to act. “In the midst of war,” wrote historian Samuel Fortenbaugh, a 1923 Union grad and former chairman of the board, “the issue seemed inappropriate and no action was taken.” The petitioners persevered, however, and 16 years later, the College was chartered by the state Board of Regents.