In a photograph that appeared in the Central Maine Morning Sentinel September 11, Kate Vasconi ’09 is shown with 3,000 American flags she and other members of the Colby Republicans arranged on Miller Library lawn. Vasconi, daughter of a New York City firefighter, spoke to Colby about the memorial she helped create and about 9/11.
You didn’t know what was planned for the 9/11 memorial on Colby’s quad before the Republican Club met?
No, I went into the meeting and there was this big poster, pictures of 9/11. I was standing there, very shaken by it. I was very emotional about it because I didn’t know it was something that we were doing. When we finally got out there to put the flags down, it really hit me. It was September 11 again.
And you had lived through it once?
On Staten Island.
Where did you see it from?
I was in math class, and out the school window you could see all the smoke, because we’re right across from lower Manhattan.
What happened in the school that day?
We had actually heard about it on the radio. My mom works at the school. I’d been sitting in her office and somebody said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. People just assumed it was some kind of an accident and things just went on normally. When the second plane hit, I was in class. The building actually shook. At that point people were starting to panic because now we knew there were two planes that had hit.
We had all gotten put into sort of a lockdown situation. We couldn’t leave the rooms we were in, and over the loudspeakers people’s names were being called when their parents were there. Slowly but surely people kept leaving school until there was no one left. I went home with my neighbor because my mother couldn’t leave the school.
Where was your dad?
My dad got called in to help with the emergency because they needed all the help that they could get.
Did you know that then?
No. When I got home, my neighbor told me. She went to pick up my little sister and they wouldn’t let her pick her up … so my dad actually had to come back to get her. Thinking about it, he would have been there a lot earlier had it not been for the fact that he had to go pick up my sister. So there are a lot of what-ifs that you can think about in that situation.
But that didn’t spare him entirely?
He was there for three days. Well, he was there for longer than three days but for three days we hadn’t heard from him. So we were obviously very worried about where he was. It was just that they were working straight for three days, trying to recover anybody who was caught under the rubble and just trying to bring home anybody dead or alive to their families. He had been in Ground Zero for something like two weeks, coming home sporadically. They set up tents for them to eat and to change.
He never came home in that time?
He came home sometimes just to shower and say hello and he’d go right back.
Is he the same person he was before?
Yeah. My dad’s a very jovial, fun-loving person and I’d say maybe—I don’t want to say it aged him because he’s still very young. But it does make him more serious about things. He doesn’t like it when I travel alone into the city. He was like, “Oh, you’re going so far away to Maine to go to school.” But then he was like, “Well, maybe it’s a good thing because maybe you’ll be safe there.”
Are your family members all New Yorkers?