The dedication of a permanent memorial to Officer Sean A. Collier was held on April 29 in a ceremony that emphasized the strength of both Collier and the MIT community.
“The permanent memorial is intended to be a place of remembrance and reflection, a place that evokes the strength of Collier Strong, a place that reflects the connectedness of our community,” said Executive Vice President Israel Ruiz SM ’01 in his opening remarks.
Collier had been fatally shot by the Boston Marathon bombers as he sat in his police cruiser by the Stata Center — feet from where the memorial now stands — shortly after the bombings in 2013. The trial of the only surviving bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is currently in its sentencing phase.
At the corner of Main and Vassar streets, the memorial to Collier is composed of 32 interlocking granite blocks, held together by nothing but clever geometry and the force of gravity and friction.
President L. Rafael Reif saw these forces as an analogy for the often invisible forces between members of a community, which were revealed as the MIT community came together to mourn Collier’s loss.
“Beginning today, this memorial will be a landmark in our daily lives, a new gateway to the campus we share,” he said. “I hope this graceful display of invisible forces can become a daily reminder of those invisible human forces that create community.”
John DiFava, MIT’s police chief, compared the Collier memorial to a Roman memorial to the famous politician Cicero. In his speech, DiFava remembered his father characterizing Cicero as a great man to Romans.
“I have no doubt that in the years to follow, when we are long gone, a father will look at this beautiful structure and say ‘this memorial was built by MIT to honor Sean Collier. To MIT, he was a great man,’” he said.
The creation of the memorial was a collaboration between people from a variety of disciplines, including Professor J. Meejin Yoon, who designed the structure; Professor John Oschendorf, who oversaw its engineering; and Collier’s brother Rob Rogers, who was the project manager for Suffolk Construction.
Yoon described the process of designing the memorial as “a deeply emotional and humbling experience.”
She praised the strength of Collier’s brother Rogers, who was “on the site daily at the crack of dawn, through blizzard after blizzard, devoted and resolved to build block by block the memorial for today’s dedication,” adding that “Rob [Rogers] always had a quiet strength, a kind spirit, a contagious smile.”
The audience rose in standing ovation as Yoon concluded that “the memorial had not truly been built with big granite blocks but had in fact been built with big hearts, and all love.”
Her last remark alluded to Rogers’ eulogy for Collier: “Live long like he would. Big heart, big smiles, big service, all love.” These words have been inscribed into the memorial.
With five radial walls curving around an empty ovoid space, the memorial is inspired by the gesture of an open hand, symbolizing Collier’s willingness to help others. The empty space serves as a place of reflection and a physical reminder of his loss.
Amid the stone memorial, honey locust trees were planted to mark the passage of time, while underneath it point lights were set into the pavement to permanently map the constellation of stars on the night of Collier’s death, April 18, 2013.
The design of the memorial’s arches combined old-fashioned masonry techniques with cutting-edge digital fabrication and structural computation techniques, creating what Yoon called a structure of “unprecedented form.”
“MIT is known for science and technology, discovering and innovation, boldness and bearing,” Reif said. “Today through this memorial we demonstrate all those strengths, and we remind ourselves of our capacity for reverence and beauty too.”