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Video | Senior's poem helps heal nation's wounds

By Hunter Stenback
On September 9, 2011

While most Miami University students understand the impact of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2011, few have offered as much inspiration to those affected by the tragedy as senior Aaron Walsh.

As an 11-year-old sixth grader in suburban Cincinnati, less than a month after the twin towers fell, Walsh was prompted to write a poem in English class based on the prompt, "I hold in my hands."

Walsh, who said he usually wrote about his soccer and basketball games, rarely filling a full page in his composition book, chose a heavier topic than most of his classmates: the 9/11 attacks.

"It was immediate," Walsh said of his decision to write about that fateful day in American history. "I started writing that second and I still remember that moment when I started writing it. It was profound."

By the end of the class period, Walsh had completed a work of prose that would resonate far beyond the walls of his Cincinnati classroom.

"I hold in my hands ... The dust ... The dust and wreckage of the towers," his poem began. "I can still feel it ... It has damaged my hands with dirt ... It has damaged my heart with sorrow ... It has damaged my body with fear and it has damaged my life with war."

Hundreds of miles away, flight attendant Tanya Hoggard was volunteering at Ground Zero when she began collecting encouraging letters and artwork sent to firehouses by children.

"She found all these letters from kids all over the country and all over the world, postcards, flags, all kinds of stuff," Walsh said. "She was going to put together this big memorial because otherwise it was all going to go in a garbage can."

Back in Ohio, Walsh's teacher had directed him to share the poem with his parents, who in turn shared it with extended family. Walsh's aunt shared it with her former college roommate, who sent it to a friend: Hoggard.

"I didn't even know that it was in circulation, like I knew my grandma would give it to people like her bank teller because that's what grandmas do, but we got the call from Tanya, and we were like ‘well how did she get a hold of it?'" Walsh said. "It's hard to imagine."

Ten years later, Hoggard's collection, including Walsh's poem, is set to be displayed permanently in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. Hoggard and Walsh will also take part in a commemorative ceremony this weekend in Cincinnati, which Walsh will close by reading his poem.

Walsh, for one, is still in shock that his work has had such a widespread impact.

"You don't know what impact such a small act will have on other people, and that's what I'll keep with me throughout this whole thing," Walsh said. "This little poem I wrote, it's like a page and a half in my sixth grade notebook, has grown to represent this big event. It just goes to show what people are capable of."

Looking back, Walsh said his feelings about 9/11 have not changed since the day he inked his famous poem back in middle school, and he believes that is why so many people identify with it.

"I think people like it because it's so simple, it's simple minded, but it has the core message that everyone would want (about their) country summarized in a little poem written by an 11-year-old," Walsh said. "I think if you read the poem, each stanza has a different theme to it. At the beginning I felt injured, I felt hurt. There was an attack on our country, on our pride, on our patriotism. And then it gradually goes into feeling better, into hope for the future, and I still have that. We've rebounded."

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