April 04, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Silence can be more powerful than the spoken word.

Seven La Grande High School students felt the sound of silence over spring break during a visit to Ground Zero in New York City.

The students viewed the Sept. 11 tragedy from a memorial platform erected less than 100 yards from the World Trade Center. Thousands walk quietly along the platform each day.

It is as if visitors are embracing the words of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881): Silence is of eternity.

People are quiet; they are trying to take it all in, LHS student Amy Hinton said.

LHS business and yearbook teacher Teresa Dowdy, who accompanied the students, had a similar observation.

They (her students) are usually laughing and talking, Dowdy said. Nobody was talking. To see it is so emotional, it is the strangest feeling.

One of the most striking features at Ground Zero is a large American flag. It has been signed by thousands of people. LHS student Stephanie Glasser is among those who left her name.

You know you are an American when you sign it, Glasser said.

The students were in New York City to attend the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Convention. Glasser was joined by classmates Kinsey Chadwick, Amy Hinton, Jaimie Bingham, Des McCoy, Mandy Kassien and Nicole Seale. All are members of the yearbook staff.

The conference, helping students learn more about how to produce a yearbook, was at Columbia University. The Ground Zero experience was the most significant to the students.

It was a life-changing experience. When you see it on TV, it doesnt touch you like it does when you are really there, Hinton said.

Chadwick thought about what it would have been like for the thousands of people who ran down streets following the attacks.

It is freaky to imagine people running through there. The streets are so narrow, Chadwick said.

Dowdy noted that the damage to nearby buildings is still evident. She also noted that she was surprised to see a cemetery located next to the platforms ramp.

Several of the students said they plan to return to New York someday.

I think that every American should go there and experience it because you dont know what it is like until you are there, Hinton said.

The emotional impact has not been buffered by the passage of a week or the 3,000 miles which now separates the students from Ground Zero. This is evident every time the students look at a video they made at the site.

Everybody stops talking when viewing the scene, Dowdy said.