SCHENECTADY — The front lawn at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons changed color Wednesday morning.
Minutes before 8 a.m., summer green dominated. Shortly after 8, the grass became a patriotic canvas of red, white and blue — the stars and bars of nearly 3,000 small American flags.
The 240-member student body gathered for an assembly-prayer service, and a chance to remember — and honor — people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The idea came from Shayla Moran, 17, a senior who lives in Rotterdam. Inspired by Young America's Foundation, described as an conservative outreach organization for young people, Moran wanted to build on the foundation's "Never Forget Project." Since 2003, the foundation has been helping students remember the 9/11 anniversary.
Moran said she pitched her idea to ND-BG officials when the school year began earlier this month. The school backed the lawn project, and quickly ordered 3,000 flags measuring 4 by 6 inches.
Moran composed and read a prayer of remembrance. History teacher Rich Harrigan also made some remarks as students prepared for solemn tasks. Each student received 11 flags, and quietly placed them in the ground.
"I pretty much started crying, basically, outside," Moran said. "Especially after everyone had left and I was able to walk around myself and look at it and take pictures. It was very emotional."
Even though Moran had not yet been born when terrorists crashed airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania — when passengers thwarted the hijackers' plan for another building strike — the events of 18 years ago have deeply affected her.
"It was something that happened to our country that jeopardized our freedom in a way," she said. "It was so horrific, from what my parents tell me. They educated me about what happened on that day, it was a very tragic day."
Patti and Paul Moran encouraged their daughter to pursue the project.
"They keep telling me they're so proud of me," Moran said, "because I'm a really shy, kind of reserved person. I'm not really one to go out and do something big and spontaneous, I usually just keep to myself. But I'm very passionate about our country and how I want our country to go in a successful way, so they were all on board for it."
Principal Kiante Jones said school administration loved the idea of a powerful visual to observe 9/11.
"This generation of kids, our senior class, is the first generation of students born after Sept. 11," Jones said. "So it was a nice opportunity we saw to honor the victims, honor their families and have our kids learn about an event they were not alive for that touched so many people."
Some people driving by the Albany Street school stopped their cars to look over the display. Jones said some neighbors came out to watch the ceremony — so the project became both a teaching lesson and an exercise in bringing together a community.
"It was just amazing to see the students students taking everything so seriously, really reflecting on this day," Jones said. "Eighteen years ago to them is like a lifetime away, but seeing all that, wow, each of these flags represents a human life no longer with us."
Moran had others in her corner. Her brother Patrick Moran is assistant principal at ND-BG. Her father and sister, Kathleen Gates, are both Air force veterans.
Moran would like to see the flags — 2,977 planted for victims of the attacks — remain in place.
"I would like for them to stay out as long as possible," she said. "I just don't want anyone to damage them or anything. We want to continue this tradition here after I'm gone, so they obviously want to preserve the flags."
The flag ceremony only took about five minutes.
"I'm so thankful everyone was respectful and I'm so thankful I was given an opportunity to do something like this," Moran said.