Just like us

A Remembrance Scholar gets to know the Pan Am Flight 103 victim she represents.

When I became a Remembrance Scholar, I anticipated spending a lot of time in university archives learning about an exceptional, far away person who died too soon. I imagined talking about the Pan Am 103 tragedy with current scholars, and readied myself for many a weepy phone call home to my mom.

All of that came true. But what I didn’t realize before this process began was the connection I would make with the families of the victims of Pan Am 103, the message they would have for us, and how close I would feel to the tragedy, despite the distance.

Photo: Alyssa Greenberg
Students process towards the Wall of Remembrance Friday to honor those who lost their lives in the Pan Am plane crash over Lockerbie, Scotland two decades ago.

As Remembrance Scholars, we plan a week of events, which this year included a panel discussion on the future of terrorism, a candlelight vigil, a concert, educational outreach and a rose laying ceremony. We are tasked with learning as much as we can about the victim we represent so that we may connect with all 35 Syracuse University students lost in the crash.

As part of that charge, a good number of scholars, including myself, contacted their victims' families.

When I called, the woman who greeted me on the other end of the phone was warm, friendly and more than willing to tell me about her son’s sense of humor, love of Philadelphia sports and gift for writing.

The Monettis are an incredible family and a lesson in how to cope with tragedy. Since their son Rick died aboard Pan Am 103, they’ve become heavily involved in the group Victims of Pan Am Flight 103. Bob Monetti, Rick’s dad, has served as president of the group and traveled all over the world. This September he went to Geneva to testify in front of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, pushing for an investigation into the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the lone man convicted of the bombing.

“Any chance I get to make trouble for al-Gaddafi, I’m there,” Mr. Monetti said with a chuckle, of the Libyan president. But behind his smile was the fortitude of a man who has fought for 22 years for some justice after the death of his son. “Never give up on what’s right,” he said.

The Monettis taught me a few more things this week.

“They weren’t saints,” Mr. Monetti said of the SU victims.

Now, in some ways, that’s arguable. They were an incredible bunch of artists, journalists, aspiring educators and advocates for peace. In letters home to families, then-chancellor Melvin Eggers described them as “the university’s best and brightest.” The archives are filled with videos of Broadway-bound performances and eloquent writings. These were special students.

But what Mr. Monetti means is that they were also college kids, just like us. They had their strong subjects and their poor ones, they got into arguments with their parents and caused mischief sparked from boredom or curiosity. They drank and had fun. “Rick never found a party he didn’t want to join,” his mother said.

In addition to the incredible accomplishments they left behind, some of the most moving possessions are the ordinary ones: teddy bears and passports, prom photos and jeans.

These are the realizations that humanize the victims, that bring them down from distant pedestals frozen in 1988 and remind us how close their lives were to ours today, and how precious and fleeting life can be.

Students speak at the Convocation for Remembrance Scholars at 2:03p.m. outside of the Hall of Languages at the Wall of Remembrance Friday afternoon. (Photo: Alyssa Greenberg)

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