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Thiel College Welcomes Kevin Tuerff

By Brian L Brink

“Every major religion has a version of the Golden Rule, it’s the one thing that unites us,” Kevin Tuerff said during his presentation, The Ripple Effects of Compassion, on Thursday, Jan. 17.

Tuerff is an author who started the pay-it-forward campaign in Texas after getting home from Gander, Newfoundland, where he was stranded during 9/11. An experienced that was eventually turned into a musical called Come From Away and a book, written by Tuerff, called Channel of Peace.

Gander is a small Canadian town with a population of 9000 and an international airport originally built for military operations. Then on September 11, 2001, 38 flights carrying 7000 people, from 90 different countries, were redirected there. It was also the day that, according to Tuerff, the people of Gander began preparations for welcoming that many people into their town.

Tuerff explained that he and the other passengers sat on the planes for 15 hours while people screened them to make sure they’re were no other terrorists. When they finally left the planes they were only allowed their carrying on bags in fear that there could be bombs in the checked bags, he said.

Tuerff continued to talk about how the bus drivers decided to stop their strike just to drive the passengers to places where they could sleep. Places like the local community college, where Tuerff and his then partner, also named Kevin, along with many others, stayed during their time in the town.

“It was cute for a while,” Tuerff said when describing his relationship with a person with the same first name as him.

According to Tuerff, the entire community of Gander came together for five days to take care of those who were stranded there. They also never asked for anything in return from any of the “plane people” because they thought it’s what anyone would do.

When Tuerff finally got back to Texas, where he was living at the time, he began a charity called Pay It Forward 9/11. He explained it as every September 11 he would close his business and give each of his employees $100 so they could go out into the community and do random acts of kindness. Simple things, according to Tuerff, such as buying strangers coffee or paying for a tire to be fixed.

One guy on the forth or fifth year, he couldn’t remember, called Tuerff to tell him that he changed his life simply by paying for his tire.

Tuerff said that on the 10th anniversary many of the “plane people” went back to Gander for celebration and to see those who helped them. During that time David Hein and Irene Sankoff were interviewing passengers and community members with the intent to write a musical. The musical, Come From Away, would go on to win a Tony from best direction.

“Immigrants and refugees welcome,” was written on a banner in front of a church in New York City which is when Tuerff knew that that was his church.

Tuerff said that he eventually moved back to New York to become a member of that church. He now works for a charity called Charter for Compassion as a Compassion Ambassador and travels the country as a speaker. While in New York City he also wrote a book titled, Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11.

“Look with compassion on how we’re all the same,” Tuerff said as a way to end his presentation.

Next common hour will feature Dr. Cindy Persinger of California University of Pennsylvania and will take place on Thursday, Jan. 24.

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