Uplifting message rings out at Barlow 9/11 ceremony

Many years have passed since she lost her friend Peter Burton Hanson in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But Vanessa Elias had to choke back tears in recalling their time together at Joel Barlow High School.

“I met Pete in these very halls of Barlow back in 1985,” Elias said. “He was so friendly, a straight talker with a big laugh. He had no problem speaking his mind, especially when standing up for someone.

“He championed the underdog, always tried to lift people up and went after his passions. He was a great friend and special person, and our planet lost a good soul 16 years ago today.”

Elias and her daughter, Mia, were among the throng of officials, friends and students who gathered on Monday, September 11 at the 9/11 ceremony at Barlow.

The ceremony honored 1987 Barlow graduate Peter Burton Hanson, who died on September 11, 2001. Each year, a scholarship is awarded to a student who embodies Hanson’s character traits and to pay tribute to all who died on that tragic day.  

Easton residents Lee and Eunice Hanson established the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity in 2004 to honor their son, Peter, who died along with his wife, Sue, and their young daughter Christine, 2.

Lee and Eunice Hanson established the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity in 2004 to honor their son, Peter, who died along with his wife, Sue, and their young daughter Christine, 2. — Nancy Doniger photo

Lee and Eunice Hanson established the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity in 2004 to honor their son, Peter, who died along with his wife, Sue, and their young daughter Christine, 2. — Nancy Doniger photo

The family was aboard United Airlines flight 175, which flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Julie McTague, assistant principal, opened the ceremony at 9:11 a.m.

“This is the 14th time we gather in this space to reflect upon the events of Sept. 11,” McTague said.

She acknowledge some of the guests who came to pay their respects: The first selectman from Redding,  Julia Pemberton, and from Easton, Adam Dunsby; Redding Police Chief Doug Fuchs, Easton Chief Tim Shaw and other members of the Redding and Easton police and fire departments; Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas McMorran, assistant superintendent Dr. Stephanie Pierson Ugol and members of the Board of Education.

“We are especially delighted that Peter’s parents, Lee and Eunice Hanson, are able to be with us today,” McTague said. “We are also very happy to have two good friends of Peter’s joining us: Paula Barker and Vanessa Elias.”

She also welcomed Donna Smith, the mother of Jason Smith, this year’s Peter Burton Hanson award recipient.

Barker and Elias serve on the scholarship committee and said they chose Jason, out of a group of very qualified nominees. The Hansons provide a $1,000 scholarship as part of the prestigious award.

Julie McTague, assistant principal, presents the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity to Jason Smith, a senior. Nancy Doniger photo

Julie McTague, assistant principal, presents the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity to Jason Smith, a senior. Nancy Doniger photo

Members of the Joel Barlow High School Chamber Singers sang America the Beautiful, followed by a reflection by Dr. Gina Pin, assistant superintendent and head of school.

Pin cited how people respond with acts of compassion to disasters such as 9/11 and the recent hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida. She called on the young people in attendance to emulate Peter Hanson and respond with acts of kindness in situations they encounter in everyday life, which could be as simple as inviting a student sitting along to to join them at lunch.

Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity

Jason Smith, who received the Peter Burton Hanson Award at 9/11 ceremonies at Joel Barlow High School, addresses the gathering as Julie McTague, assistant principal, looks on. — Nancy Doniger photo

Jason Smith, who received the Peter Burton Hanson Award at 9/11 ceremonies at Joel Barlow High School, addresses the gathering as Julie McTague, assistant principal, looks on. — Nancy Doniger photo

Jason, a senior,  has lived in Redding his whole life and is self-described as an “unexpected nerd,” who loves to read, especially comic books, McTague said.

Music played a huge part in Peter Hanson’s life, and Jason shares the passion.

“Regarding music, heavy metal of the 60s, 70s, and 80s is his preference; and for a while, he worked to teach himself guitar,” McTague said.

“Here at Joel Barlow, Jason was among the first group of students trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid. He is a leader within this group, presenting at faculty, student, and parent meetings, and his sincere belief in the Youth Mental Health First Aid work and interest in helping others shines through.

“Jason is also a member of the high school’s Student Steering Committee, which seeks to identify and develop solutions to issues of student concern.”

After graduation, Jason plans to attend college and major in zoology.  

“From what I’ve come to learn about Peter, he would have been someone I would have loved to know,” Jason said. “It’s very humbling to be part of maintaining the memory of someone as special as Peter Hanson and even more humbling to know i exemplify some of his qualities.”

Following the ceremony, a small group accompanied Lee and Eunice Hanson to the 9/11 memorial behind the school.

Peter Burton Hanson Award winner Jason Smith, center, and his mother, Donna Smith, are flanked by, front row from left, Gina Pin, Lee and Eunice Hanson, Julie Pemberton, Vanessa Elias and Mia Elias; and back row, Paula Barker, Mark Pastor, Adam Dunsby and Thomas McMorran. — Nancy Doniger photo

Peter Burton Hanson Award winner Jason Smith, center, and his mother, Donna Smith, are flanked by, front row from left, Gina Pin, Lee and Eunice Hanson, Julie Pemberton, Vanessa Elias and Mia Elias; and back row, Paula Barker, Mark Pastor, Adam Dunsby and Thomas McMorran. — Nancy Doniger photo

Jason Smith, the 2017 recipient of the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity, visits Barlow’s 9/11 memorial with his mother, Donna Smith, far right; and from left, Peter Burton’s friends Paula Barker and Vanessa Eliis, and his parents, Lee and Eunice Hanson. — Nancy Doniger photo

Following the Barlow 9/11 ceremony, Jason Smith, the 2017 recipient of the Peter Burton Hanson Award for Humanity, visits the school’s 9/11 memorial with his mother, Donna Smith, far right; and from left, Peter Burton’s friends Paula Barker and Vanessa Eliis, and his parents, Lee and Eunice Hanson. — Nancy Doniger photo

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