September 7, 2021
Tony Perez has never forgotten the day the sky fell and terror came to his campus.
Perez, then the president of Borough of Manhattan Community College, was driving to work on Sept. 11, 2001, when he looked up and saw the attack on New York’s World Trade Center.
“There was a ball of fire,” he said, describing his first view of the 9/11 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people as hijackers crashed airliners into both of Manhattan’s twin towers and the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers fought back against the terrorists.
BMCC, which occupies several buildings in Lower Manhattan, lost eight students and alumni in the fallen towers. The subsequent collapse of 7 World Trade Center — only hundreds of feet from the heart of the attacks — pummeled the college’s Fiterman Hall with a mountain of debris, rendering it uninhabitable.
The building, which housed classrooms, computer labs and administrative offices, would later be torn down and rebuilt, earning BMCC the terrible distinction as the only U.S. college to lose a building to terrorism.
Even as Americans and people across the world struggle with a very different catastrophe in the COVID-19 pandemic, memorials around the nation this week will commemorate the two decades since 9/11.
BMCC’s plans include a wreath-laying ceremony at the front of its main building, where a plaque commemorates the eight students and alumni killed that day. Leading up to the anniversary, students, faculty and staff have been sharing their memories of 9/11 in an online forum. The college has scheduled other events to reflect on its story of survival and recovery, which led to disaster-preparedness lessons that BMCC leaders shared with many institutions in higher education.