Students who attend Todd Beamer High today know their Federal Way school is named for one of the passengers who fought back at hijackers...
Students who attend Todd Beamer High today know their Federal Way school is named for one of the passengers who fought back at hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, the one thought to have uttered the now-famous line, “Let’s roll.”
But 40 years from now? Or 50? Will students scratch their heads and wonder who the heck Beamer was?
Senior Jonathan Gillies thought that was a distinct possibility.
So with donations from area businesses and blessings from school officials, he created a memorial that, over the summer, was sunk deep into the ground in front of the school. In black lettering on a slab of pink granite, it eulogizes Beamer and the other passengers on United Flight 93, which crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
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Gillies hopes it will forever remind students that ordinary people like themselves can do extraordinary things.
In the face of death, he says, those passengers “stood up and did what was right.”
Gillies, who is 6 foot 3 with bright-red hair, was on the committee that recommended the high school be named for Beamer. At the time, he argued that the name would be fresh, given that students and faculty all felt the impact of that day’s tragedies deeply. And he thought it would honor the courage of the American people as well as the individuals on the plane.
The School Board approved the name, which fit within its policy of naming high schools for national heroes who are deceased. (The district’s other schools are named after Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman and Stephen Decatur, a famous naval commander of the early 1800s.)
Beamer High opened in fall 2003, and Gillies busied himself with school and his Boy Scout activities.
When it came time to undertake his Eagle Scout project, he wanted to do something with a lasting impact. He decided the memorial would achieve that goal — and more.
School and district officials enthusiastically supported the idea, Gillies said. When Beamer’s parents visited in 2004 for the school’s first graduation, they liked the idea, too, he said.
Rhodes Architectural Stone donated the granite slab, which stands a few feet high. Tacoma Monument engraved the sentences Gillies composed, using the design he selected.
It sits in a spot no one can miss: right in the middle of the courtyard outside the school’s front doors. Gillies arranged for it to be set in concrete, and researched how best to landscape the triangular flower bed around it. He then enlisted help from fellow Boy Scouts to lay down weed-control mats, spread landscaping bark 3 inches deep and plant chrysanthemums to replace the ailing plants that were there before.
The project — all done with donated materials and labor — would have cost about $6,000.
Just days before school started last week, Gillies completed the finishing touches, including trimming an existing tree. A formal dedication will take place today, the fourth anniversary of the death of Beamer and so many more.
Near the memorial, the woody aroma of fresh beauty bark fills the air. Gillies points out that the bark is undisturbed, which means students aren’t walking over the bed like they used to. He thinks it’s a matter of respect.
Two students stop to look. They ask if the stone is marble or granite, then silently read the inscription, which ends with Beamer’s famous quote. They look like freshmen or sophomores, in blue sports jerseys.
” ‘Let’s roll.’ ” one says. “Pretty cool.”
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org