Sept. 11, 2001 was a day that carried tragedy, hardship, and patriotism into the hearts of every American. The country watched in horror as the towers burned, praying for the safety of the people left inside.
Lauren Manning was a managing director and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment firm, which occupied several floors of offices in the north tower. She had only just arrived in the lobby for work, when a wave of burning jet fuel burst through an elevator shaft and engulfed her in flames.
Manning addressed UVU last Wednesday, marking the 12th anniversary of the catastrophe that forever changed her life and our nation.
Students, faculty, and community members filled the ballroom with American flags given at the doors as a symbol of unity. Murmurs of “where were you that day?” echoed through isles. Two immaculate crystal chandeliers shone red and blue, lighting upon the crowd.
“I stand before you, both as a witness and a survivor, to the absolute terror and profound love we have shown to one another,” Manning said. “I am here today to say never forget, that from out of the ashes of great tragedy is born the great beauty of the human capacity to embrace imperfections.”
She took a moment to thank Tyler Brklacich, the student vice present of academics who was partially responsible for her visit to UVU.
“It was actually my mom’s idea,” Brklacich said. “9/11 is dear to our hearts and we thought it was essential to continue having a 9/11 memorial at UVU. From the moment I read her story, I knew she would be the perfect keynote. Through UVUSA’s speaking budget, we made it possible for Mrs. Manning to address UVU.”
Manning described her life prior to that day in 2001, detailing her constant efforts to succeed in her career. Although Wall Street is notoriously an oppressive workplace for women, Manning proved herself as a major contributor to the business she deemed the “epicenter of American capitalism.”
Sept. 11 began as just another workday for Manning, who couldn’t have predicted the magnitude of change that was about to cast itself upon her. As she was waiting for an elevator she heard an unfamiliar whistling sound, accompanied by a shake so violent she said she felt as if the building had been picked up and dropped back down.
The first plane had hit, its fuel tank exploded. Compressed air shot out a burst of flame through the elevator shaft and ignited the entire floor, engulfing Manning.
“I didn’t know what had just happened,” Manning said. “I was trying desperately to get out when the backdraft sucked me deeper into the flames. This didn’t seem real, then the round of air pushed me back out.”
Covered in flames, she exited the building searching for a lone spot of grass to extinguish the flames.
As she faced death, the thought of her husband and ten-month-old son anchored her to reality. An ambulance escorted her to the hospital where they determined she had third degree burns on 82 percent of her body.
She was told she had only a 17 percent chance at survival with complications that continued to drop that percentage. Against those odds, Manning made the decision to survive.
After being placed in a drug-induced coma for two months, she found herself in a new, helpless body that she did not recognize.
A long recovery awaited her that included many months of rehabilitation, re-learning basic skills. But everyday she grew stronger, and with that strength she commemorated the lives of her fallen colleagues. Although she learned so much from her triumph, she offered her discoveries through five lessons:
Lesson One: Defeat is only temporary. Don’t let your misfortunes define who you are, instead face them and refuse to be overcome.
Lesson Two: The path to success is also the path to failure. Realize it is your life for the taking, and don’t quit before you come into the light.
Lesson Three: You won’t discover how strong you are until strong is your only option. Your strength will recruit others to your cause, whatever it may be.
Lesson Four: It is imperative that you utilize the leverage of others in your life.
“As affiliates of an institution in the higher world of academia,” Manning said. “You need to function both on an individual level and as a whole, united in your cause.
Lesson Five: Taking constructive focus will save you. Learn that crises and opportunity are the same and that tough challenges reveal true character.
Manning ended her speech to the audience’s standing ovation. She informed the crowd that proceeds from the autobiographies she sold that day would be donated to UVU.
“I don’t know how I could have come here without a tissue,” Bethany Bowker, who drove from South Jordan to hear the speech, said. “Manning is one of the most inspirational people I have ever had the privilege of listening to. I went away with a feeling of strength that whatever does come my way, I will be able to handle it. It was such a gift to be able to listen to her.”