SARASOTA & MANATEE- First responders, students, veterans’ groups, and members of the community gathered in USF Sarasota-Manatee’s courtyard for an inaugural 9/11 remembrance ceremony Tuesday morning.

America was a nation struck by chaos and grief.

“It was a monumental event in our history and I think we are still absorbing what it means,” said David Kotok, 9/11 survivor.

17 years later, it’s a time to come together as a community. Beginning with 2,977 flags planted in the university’s courtyard to honor each victim.

“The patriotism and resiliency of the American people shine brightly on the 11th of September 2001,” said Veterans Service Administrator for USF-SM, Carlos Moreira .

The ceremony recognized our first responders.

“We had the police, the fire department from Sarasota and Manatee, we have the military Academy that came and supported, and at the same time we had a lot of people that were here present that were inside of the towers,” Moreira said.

Survivors like Kotok, who experienced mayhem firsthand.

“There’s a reason I’m still here. I’m still working on that one. So I have to figure that one out but I’m alive and I’m lucky to be alive. I survived 9/11. Others did not,” he said.

He shared his story to the audience, inspiring others to set aside disparity.

He said, “America has wonderful strength when it comes together as a community. It stops seeing differences, whether those are color, religion, creed, belief.”

It was a lesson he learned and a message he wants to give.

“Remember, study history, learn from it, and take care of the people who need you,” Kotok said.

Officers from Cedar Hammock Fire Department, SRQ Airport Police and Fire, and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office were also honored.