A strong community is essential to growth, Joel Barlow High School Principal Gina Pin said at the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
The ceremony, held at Barlow, paid tribute to the late Peter Hanson of Easton, a member of the Joel Barlow Class of 1987.
Hanson died at age 32 on Sept. 11 when United Airlines Flight 175 was crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He was with his wife, Sue, and her daughter, Christine Lee Hanson — who, at 2 ½ years old, was the youngest person to lose a life on that day.
In total, 2,996 people died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“This ceremony is an opportunity to reflect on what makes a successful life,” Pin said to a packed house, which included Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton, Easton First Selectman Adam Dunsby, Redding police chief Mark O’Donnell, and Easton police chief Tim Shaw. “It is time to review what our country values when we turn down the volume and consider all that brings us together.”
Pin acknowledged that Tuesday was Patriot’s Day, “a National Day of Service,” and said “our liberty is rooted in our service to each other.”
This is a day when people “seek to find” what they have in common with one another, “rather than focusing on what divides us,” Pin said.
In her speech, Pin said that one’s parents, teachers and community “give us wings” to “step out of our comfort zone” and explore new experiences.
“Our community cares for our deepest roots,” Pin said. “We are part of two towns that care about us as individuals”
Rather than seeing Sept. 11 as a tragedy, Pin said Hanson’s parents, Lee and Eunice, have encouraged everyone to see the day as a time to celebrate the characteristics that defined their son’s life as exemplified by a graduating senior.
Redding resident Liadan O’Connor, 16, was presented with the Peter Burton Hanson Award.
This award has been given to a Barlow senior every year since 2004. Each year, an award committee meets in the spring or summer prior to the 9-11 ceremony to review junior applicants that staff members nominate, and the recipient is notified in the fall of his or her senior year.
All recipients have shared Hanson’s character traits, Pin said, which include embracing volunteerism, love of the arts, and dedication to social justice.
“Lia was also nominated for her wit, her embrace of life, and her unassuming leadership,” Pin added.
Hanson’s friend, 1989 Barlow graduate Paula Bartlett Barker, spoke about him as she presented the award to Lia, along with another of Hanson’s friends, Vanessa Hoffman Elias.
“Peter was a fun and feisty redhead who was loved and respected by all who knew him,” Barker said.
In high school, Peter had “global interests that your average high school student didn’t often possess in those days before Internet access and social media,” Barker said. “Peter was much more aware of our world at large when most of us were merely focused on our lives in Easton and Redding. He was passionate about politics, music, human rights, the environment and he loved to champion the underdog.”
When Lia accepted her award, she said, through tears, that it’s hard for a person her age to relate to and understand the devastation of Sept. 11.
“I was born on Nov. 28, 2001, two months after 9-11, into a world that changed overnight,” Lia said. “On this day, Peter is a reminder that good people must speak for those who are voiceless and acknowledge those who are selfless.”
One person can make a difference, Lia said.
She added that “like Peter,” she “cares deeply about equality, working together for peace, and celebrating our differences through music.”
“I promise to uphold everything that peter stood for. I’m honored to have gotten to know him this way,” Lia said. “I will remain dedicated to the issues I hold close to my heart.”