On Sept. 11, 2001, 66 employees of the investment banking firm Sandler O'Neill & Partners lost their lives in the devastating attack on the World Trade Center that shook the country and the world to its core. Those men and women had 76 children between them. Those are 76 kids who grew up without a mom or a dad and 76 kids who learned at a young age how unfair the world can be.
But at a time when most companies were struggling to regain their footing and reopen their doors, the surviving board members of Sandler O'Neill & Partners made a crucial decision that would affect the lives of those children forever. They made a pledge to send all of them to college, at the school or schools of their choice, so that they would always know that their parents were not forgotten. And they have made good on that promise.
The firm set up a foundation into which millions of dollars were donated for the future of these kids. The foundation does not pay out any salaries or fees other than the fees required to keep it in existence.
Since the attacks, the Sandler O'Neill Foundation has sent 54 young men and women to college, all expenses paid. Their education choices have ranged from Notre Dame and Stanford universities to local community colleges and technical institutes. The youngest child eligible to receive a college scholarship from the foundation is 13 years old — born just six weeks after the attacks. When that child graduates from college, the Sandler O'Neill Foundation will close its doors, having accomplished its mission.
Sept. 11 reminded us all that the world can be an evil place. But in its aftermath, we also learned that there is so much good here too. Yes, there are people who seek to destroy. But there are also people — lots and lots of people — who build others up, and stand up for what is right.
At a time when the board members of this investment banking firm could have buried their heads in the sand and focused on the bottom line, they held out their arms and embraced their community, honoring those whose lives were lost with a legacy that will be felt for generations.