My fellow students,
As most of you know, there has been a great deal of backlash and controversy over an opinion column written by one of our students in regards to the Memorial Plane Crash Ceremony. As your elected representative, I would like to take this opportunity to address a few points.
First I’d like to say that I disagree with any acts of ill-will toward the author or disdain for the Parthenon for running the column. He is entitled to express his opinion through our Constitution, albeit with very poor timing, and the paper has the same right to print opinions that others may deem offensive. With that being said, I do not feel that his comments reflect the sentiments of the majority of our student body, and I find the analogies and some points therein to be particularly hurtful to the families and community members affected by the tragedy.
This being the third year I have had the privilege and honor of being involved in the planning process of the Memorial Ceremony, I have had a very unique opportunity that I am afraid cannot be fully expressed to you in these words. I have personally had very lengthy conversations with daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, and other family and friends of the victims who were lost on November 14, 1970. And it is for these people, that the Student Government Association continues to organize the annual service. There is a reason that these people continue to drive, fly, and take busses from all around the country into the Jewel City every year, even 42 years later. Despite the decades that have elapsed, the emotions are still so overpowering for some of these families, that this year was the first year they could gather the courage to attend. As Lake Morehouse said in the Parthenon today, I also cannot empathize with the memories and emotions that these families feel. Take the words from Mr. Lajterman’s remarks, for example. Having to relive the events leading up to and during the accident: talking to his brother, Marcelo on the phone for the last time who was so excited to be taking his first plane ride and traveling like a professional, hearing about a plane crash in West Virginia on the radio, getting confirmation that it was, in fact the plane that was supposed to be carrying his brother, dropping to his knees in anguish, and finally arriving home to an emotional embrace by his father who had just lost a son. And there are hundreds of other accounts as unique as this, still as vivid in the minds of the families as if it happened yesterday. In my opinion, the notion that “time heals all wounds” is an overgeneralization. The fact of the matter is that these family members still think about their lost loved ones every day, and as one family member explained to me yesterday, although time helps, it certainly does not erase their memory.
Although each Ceremony over the past three years has been different in some fashion, there has been one common occurrence. Every year, immediately following the Ceremony, either on the Plaza, at the reception, or at the memorial in Spring Hill Cemetery, I have been able to have a conversation that varies in details, yet the purpose and effect remain the same. These family and community members that I have mentioned have made a point to come to me, with tears streaming down their faces, to simply say, “thank you.” Their gratitude is not just directed at me. It is to my staff, the planning committee, the university, and also to the student body. The hundreds of you who were able to come to the Ceremony on Wednesday did not do so because anybody made you, because you got any sort of incentive, or because you felt obligated. You came to show your respects to our fallen Sons and Daughters, to their families, to the community members, to the First Responders on the scene, and to the countless others who were directly affected by this tragedy. And yes, although the tragic accident took place 21 years before I was born, the gratitude of these people to us, as current students, taking the time, effort, and resources to honor and remember their loved ones does connect me to the tragedy, as much as it does you.
As I said in my remarks, I have never been more proud to represent all of you as I was this week upon seeing your outpouring of support, and for that I cannot thank you enough. The sense of unity and family here at our institution is alive and well, and the SGA will continue to hold this ceremony, until those whom it is held for decides that we should not – should that day ever come. Finally, I ask that rather than focus your energy on angry letters to the editor or threatening Facebook statuses, write an anonymous letter to a Lajterman, a Kautz, or a Cottrell. Put up a status honoring a Proctor, a Morehouse, or a Prestera. Tweet about how inspiring it was to see a Blevins, a Loria, or a Ward at the Ceremony, or any of the other 66 families – and show the community the love and compassion that the Sons and Daughters of Marshall are capable of expressing.
I hope that you all have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving break, and I look forward to seeing you on campus.
Yours in Marshall University,
Ray Harrell, Jr.
Student Body President
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