Students and invited guests gathered Monday morning outside the entrance of to honor in the words of Interim Principal Juliann Hoebee, "Americans who died entirely too young."
While Hoebee and other speakers said we will never forget the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, the new Memorial Garden will serve as a "place of new growth and reflection."
Attending the ceremony, which began with an emotional performance of the National Anthem sung by the high school's mixed chorus, were Greg Vassallo, a trustee of the , and Susan Rossinow, the widow of Norman Rossinow.
Both Vassallo and Susan Rossinow annually award scholarships to West Essex students in honor of John P. Salamone, Class of 1982, and Norman Rossinow, Class of 1980, both of whom lost their lives in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
Plaques honoring Salamone and Rossinow were placed in front of plum trees in the garden, which contains several other trees planted in honor of other deceased West Essex students.
In his remarks, Vassallo, a fellow 1982 alumni of West Essex, said Sunday was a "difficult day" for him. While visiting a memorial park near his home, his 6-year-old daughter asked him why he was so sad since the attacks occurred 10 years ago.
Vassallo's response to his daughter and to students at West Essex is the same: "We can move on, but we can't forget. We need to remember our friends and all the people who lost their lives."
"John loved this school. This is where he was going to raise his own family," Vassallo added.
Susan Rossinow also spoke of her husband's love for West Essex. "He talked about being a student here, playing the drums in the band, band camp and the friends he made," Rossinow recalled.
While Rossinow is not from this area, she said she is "amazed at the kids who graduate" from West Essex every year.
Susan Rossinow was married only three months when her husband died on Sept. 11, 2001. "I never knew what my future would be," she said.
While she acknowledged that "life goes on," she added, "it doesn't get easier." Rossinow did say people are kinder, saying complete strangers will come up to speak or hug her.
As for the memorial garden dedicated to Norman Rossinow's memory, Susan Rossinow said to quote Norman, he would "dig it".
Student representatives attending the ceremony today ranged in ages from three to eight years old on Sept. 11, 2001.
In a reflection on the impact of Sept. 11, West Essex senior and Student Council Vice President Ryan Towey said, "No student can remember life before Sept. 11, but we remember the actual day. Wounds were inflicted on our childhood. We have to talk about 9/11."
Similar to Vasallo, Towey was also with a 7-year-old girl yesterday, a family friend who did not understand the enormity of the events.
"Now I understand how my parents must have felt. How can you explain that 3,000 people were dying while you were at school?" he said.
While Towey said many parents tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy during the days surrounding Sept. 11, he came to a simple understanding that some parents were not returning home to their children anymore, and some parents went searching in vain for their adult children.
Towey did add that while the "United States was wounded that day, we did not fall."
Other students shared with Patch their memories of Sept. 11. Lee Shearim, the Senior Class President and a member of the Student Council, remembers teachers at Essex Fells School where Shearim was in the second grade "did their best to calm everyone down" as parents arrived early to take their children home.
While the teachers did not explain the terrorist attacks, Shearim's Dad, a volunteer firefighter in Essex Fells, "sat me down and broke everything down for me".
His father was later selected as part of a contingent of volunteers filling in and responding to emergency calls in New York not related to the World Trade Center.
"For a 7 year old, it was difficult for me to see my Dad leave since he was in the eye of the storm," Shearim said, adding he is now "so proud" of his father.
Student Council President Allie George said she will never forget her mother crying when she saw images of children on TV cheering over the attacks on the United States. "I am one of six kids. We were all watching on a little TV and my mother began crying," George said.
The ceremony ended with Superintendent Barbara Longo reminding students that they are our future. "9/11 has had an impact on all of us. Children will never forget," Longo stated.
Longo did add students must learn from this and work to stop this "horrific attack" from ever occurring again.
After the dedication ceremony, Lia Ward, who was working as a trader near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, gave a talk to students on her experiences that day and how it has impacted her life and the choices she makes.
In addition to the mixed chorus performance of the National anthem, the West Essex String Quartet also performed "Nocturne" from String Quartet #2 in D Major by A. Borodin at the dedication ceremony.
Benches for the Memorial Garden were donated by Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc., and the Rosenberg Family. Plum Trees were donated by the Class of 2011. Flowers and pots were donated by Tom Drago Landscaping.