September 11, 2001 I was a high school senior sitting in a classroom taking my first trigonometry test of the year. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., our principal’s voice came through the intercom to tell us an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. We paused a moment to take in the information. A plane crash. This has happened before. A plane crash in New York shouldn’t have any effect on us here in the Midwest. Then we put our heads back down to focus on our tests, annoyed at having lost precious time to complete the important equations before us. Only a few minutes later, we were interrupted again. This time the voice sounded more grave. A second airplane had crashed. Initial indications were that it was done on purpose.
It was only two and a half years earlier that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris massacred 12 classmates and a teacher in one of the worst school shooting rampages in history. That day changed the lives of not only the students at Columbine High School, but of every teenager in the country. Despite being hundreds of miles away – in my safe parochial school – I was just like those kids. As a freshman in high school, this was the first time I had ever experienced a tragedy I could relate to in a personal way. It was the first time something I heard about on the news made me cry. I look back on that day and realize it was the day I knew I was at an age where my peers were capable of doing violent, despicable things – the kind of things adults did. When I really reflect on it, I realize my most defining years were filled with violence.
The rest of September 11 was spent absorbing whatever information we could. The principal had instructed teachers and students to focus on their studies instead of watching the news. The library and computer labs were filled with students huddled around computers gathering what they could from news websites. The school’s pay phone was occupied the entire day. Students snuck into bathroom stalls with cell phones to make clandestine calls to worried parents between classes. A few parents picked their daughters up from school.
That night we spent hours on the phone recapping what we’d seen and sharing the rumors we had heard. Just a few days prior, I didn’t even know what terrorism was. Now, I heard the terrorists were targeting national monuments and the Gateway Arch could be next. In the days that followed the attacks, my classmates learned about the Taliban. I was already familiar with the Taliban because I had written a research paper about Afghan women during my junior year. But this attack had nothing to do with burquas.
When I was nine, my elementary school had a collection for something called the “Golf War.” As a third grader I thought it was exciting to be making care packages to send to the desert. Just five years later, I was learning what terrorism was. Less than a month after that, the US was at war with Afghanistan. It was only two more years before we were back in the Gulf at war with Iraq.
These moments were important in my life, just like the assassination of JFK was important to my parents, and the Pearl Harbor attack was to theirs. The tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks has me reflecting on what that day has meant in my life. I think it is important to remember the moments that shape your life. I don’t know if my generation has seen more violence than those before us, but I hope the next generation doesn’t experience as much.