Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) student Luis Guerra Bernal was playing soccer with friends in Bogotá, Colombia on the early morning of September 11, 2001.
Later, he and his friends went into a coffee shop to get something to drink. Inside, television news was being broadcast about planes crashing into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. Bernal and his friends could not fully comprehend the horror of the day’s events.
“I’d heard about the Twin Towers, but I had never seen them until that day on TV,” said Bernal, who is now 26 years old and a Multimedia Arts major at BMCC.
Adjusting to life in a new country
Fast-forward to December 2011 when Bernal and his sister join their father to live in New York City. After a few months adjusting to life in a new country, Bernal began focusing on improving his English. He researched career options and enrolled at BMCC.
In June 2016, Bernal applied for a volunteer position at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (9/11 Memorial). During the interview with Lindsay Watts, Volunteer Program Manager at the 9/11 Memorial, Bernal talked about some of the skills he had acquired from his classwork in the BMCC Multimedia Arts Department.
Luck would have it that Gennady Zaritsky, Director of Retail and Café Services, the department that works with vendors to create products for the 9/11 Museum store was looking for staff assistance.
Bernal was brought on as an unpaid extern, which allowed him to use his experience at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum to fulfill a requirement for the Media Arts and Technology Department at BMCC.
A theme of hope
For one of his first projects, Zaritsky presented Bernal with a T-shirt design idea themed around hope.
“Luis came back with a design that features the word ‘hope’ in several languages and also incorporates the words, ‘connected’, ‘loyalty’, ‘solidarity’, ‘reflect’ and ‘remember’,” said Zaritsky.
Bernal utilized his e-commerce and Photoshop skills. During the 10-week externship, he also helped create web banners and collages that help the museum share the story for visitors when they visit the website, says Zaritsky.
Glenda Blakely, Internships and Experiential Learning (IEL) Professor at BMCC , supports Media Arts and Technology interns who must complete 150 hours at their internship.
“Luis is so modest. He’s thoughtful, analytical and structured. His presentation at the end of the semester was very visual and impressive,” said Blakely.
Bernal says Blakely not only encouraged him to do his best during his internship, but to use the opportunity to expand his professional network.
It wasn’t until he moved to New York City that Bernal visited the World Trade Center site.
“That’s when it hit me just how awful 9/11 was,” said Bernal.
Bernal hopes his work helps connect people from around the world to the museum and memorial.
“I have always wanted to give something back to this great nation that welcomed me as one of its own from the moment I arrived here,” said Bernal.
Zaritsky says he believes the magnitude of the event and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s mission, which “attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life,” inspired Bernal’s creativity.
“Hope is more than a word on a T-shirt,” Bernal says, adding that he is hopeful about his own future.
“My English is much better now and I have a good GPA. I’m trying to do everything to follow the North American way of life as a citizen, student and as a worker. I didn’t come to the United States just to work. I want to contribute so much more.”
Bernal graduates BMCC in December 2016 and hopes to become an art director at an advertising agency, or work at a museum such as the Museum of Modern Art.
“If one can glean hope from an event as awful as 9/11 was, Luis is the embodiment of that,” said Zaritsky.