Remembrance Scholars creatively honor Pan Am 103 victims at Celebration of Life

[The Daily Orange] Remembrance Scholars creatively honor Pan Am 103 victims at Celebration of Life

In her poem, “A One-Time Deal,” Sasha Temerte explored the fragility of life. By examining the stages that she and those now honored during Remembrance Week had grown through — grade school, college, early adulthood — as well as the deep reflection she experiences now, Temerte recognized the power that small moments have on the overarching meaning of what it is to live.

“When I say I see myself on Pan Am 103, what I mean is I feel anxious when no one wishes me a safe flight,” she said in her poem. “I’m sure at least one of them was thinking the same.”

On Thursday night, members of the 2022-23 Remembrance Scholar cohort gathered in the K. G. Tan Auditorium in the National Veterans Resource Center for their annual Celebration of Life. The event honors and remembers the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, through music, poetry and other creative performances.

Throughout the night, performers offered up both popular works and original pieces. Scholar Caroline Bergan, in her song “Dear Stranger,” exemplified the power of personal connection.

“(The idea for the song) gets warped into the fact that everyone that we’ve met, everyone that I’m friends with here, was once a stranger to me,” Bergan said.

Otto Tunes, an all-male acapella group at Syracuse University, sang “It is Well” and “Home” to a captivated audience. Joined by past Remembrance Scholar and Otto Tunes member Matt Sala, the group’s sound reverberated throughout the entire room as they harmonized with one another.

Ronnie Ditchek, a senior Remembrance Scholar and member of Otto Tunes, recalled singing at Celebration of Life during his freshman year. He called it a “full circle” moment, and appreciated the opportunity to sing not just with Otto Tunes, but also in a solo rendition of “Fallen Angel.”

“I believe, like many of the 35 students, that the arts and music and theater have the power to change people, lives and the communities and the societies around them,” Ditchek said.

Despite the solemnity of Remembrance Week as a whole, Celebration of Life was not meant to be a sad event.

Brielle Seidel chose to honor Turhan Ergin, one of the victims, by reading a poem he wrote, based on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” about celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.

“The bird’s name was Bertha. Oh, what a sight. She was garnished with all the trimmings — a true gastronomic delight,” she read. “Yet if there were not enough, I’m sure no one would mind, for good company is a rarity. Verily, it’s hard to find.”

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In that poem, entitled “Ode to Thanksgiving,” Ergin intertwines a hopeful message through the image of a toast, offering good fortune to those he shared his Thanksgiving meal with.

“May you all live as long as you want, but never want as long as you live,” Seidel read. “And may all the mirth in this world be yours. That’s simply all that there is.”

Josh Meyers, a Jewish student and the scholar who discovered the cards with antisemitic language and symbolism in them, addressed the changed dynamic of Remembrance at Celebration of Life.

Despite the shock of the discovery, Meyers said that those events served as a valuable lesson to him, and helped himself and other scholars realize what Remembrance Week is really about.

“To truly honor and celebrate the lives lost, we must first understand that they were taken by an act of hate. And after recent events, it’s become clear that this hate still very much exists today,” he said. “We must learn how to block hate, and promote peace and love.”

Accompanied by pianist Jessica Hallock, Meyers then sang “Imagine” by John Lennon, a song known worldwide for its image of peace and harmony in the world.

Senior scholar Emily Steinberger recited her original poem, “In Memory,” in which she exemplified each individual’s role in preserving and honoring memory. She likened people to single threads, which when joined together, can create something larger than themselves.

“I am a thread, but not just. Together we are sewn, stabbed with a needle, but hugging you tightly,” she said. “Combined to create a collective memory, joining in one meaning, one purpose. A sum greater than the parts … Yesterday, I was a thread. Today, we are a quilt.”

Acappella group the Mandarins, who sang “Breakaway” earlier in the program, rounded out the night with a performance of “Indodana,” a traditional South African song.

Ofentse Mokoka, a senior Remembrance Scholar, said her choir conductor in South Africa first introduced the “Indodana” to her, and explained that the lyrics were born out of a mother’s grief after losing her child.

The Celebration of Life and Remembrance Week as a whole inspired scholars to consider the meaning, impact and delicacy of life, and to relish in the time they have.

“I think one of the beautiful things about being a Remembrance Scholar and being in this program is that we get to recognize that just by living, we have all that we need,” Seidel said. “That you’re waking up in the morning, and being here with each other, is reason enough to celebrate.”

Emily Steinberger is a senior staff writer at the Daily Orange. She does not influence the editorial content of the Culture section.

Ofentse Mokoka is a copy editor in the Culture section of the Daily Orange. She did not influence the content of this article.