Many students all over the country will never forget 9/11. On that day, they witnessed the beginning of what then President Bush described as a “war on terrorism.” Some had never seen an attack on the United States or on any country. Several students recalled the sorrow, helplessness, confusion and anger that filled their classrooms as young children on 9/11. Their classmates dropped to their knees throughout the hallways, wishing they had cell phones as they worried about their parents and other loved ones.
Families were destroyed, friendships ended and futures obliterated in a matter of minutes. The attacks forever changed America, and people were forced to take terrorism seriously. Many citizens developed a new appreciation for the men and women in service – fire fighters, police officers, emergency technicians and other medical professionals – who saved countless lives.
Today, some students brush off 9/11 as a thing of the past, others break down and cry, but all admit that the attacks left a lasting impression whether they were directly or indirectly affected. Here are excerpts from their reflections:
Where were you when the attacks occurred?“It was during middle school, I was in my eighth grade history class. I remember coming in from lunch and a classmate told me that someone had ‘bombed New York!’ I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but soon parents were picking up their children from school due to the uncertainty and seriousness of the situation. I believe teachers turned on the television to get updates, but I was one of the students to go and watch the breaking news from home. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized what was really going on.”Brittney Gwynn
“Ironically, I was in American History class, during the 11th grade, as we watched as a class the attacks on the Twin Towers. I just did not know or understand, as my teacher stood there in awe.” Jessica Gabrielle, Howard University senior, theatre arts
“I was in my Honors English 2 class. The principal made an announcement over the intercom. I remember a girl in my class freaking out, because her friend’s father worked at the World Trade Center. She later found out that he had taken the day off. Tedra Coakley, South Carolina
“I saw the plane hit the first time on my way to school. But once it hit the Pentagon, my dad told us to come back home.”Brianne Norwood, Howard University, speech and applied communication
“I was in school in the seventh grade and in math class. When the planes hit, we stopped class and watched it online in the computer lab. It was kind of unreal; I did not really believe it at first.”Jason White, Howard University junior, undecided major
“I was in the middle of an algebra test in ninth grade. The news station came on, and the principal came on intercom stating that there had been a terrible disaster. Then moments later, parents were there to pick up their kids, and my test was cancelled. The teacher started cursing, and the class was in an uproar. My parents made me stay in school all day, so I watched the news coverage of the attack all morning.” Mathias Dunwoody
“A few teachers ran in very hysterical. My teacher then turned the TV on, and I watched as they replayed the first plane crashing. Minutes later, I watched live as the second plane hit. It was unreal to me. I immediately thought of my dad who was out of town in Pennsylvania. He was supposed to catch a flight home that morning. I called my mom but no one answered. Literally by 12 p.m., I was the last kid left at my middle school. Parents rushed to pick their kids up. My brother finally came and informed me that my dad missed his flight and was driving home.” Brittney Adams
How did 9/11 affect your life?“It hit close to home, because my family decided to move away from New York a year earlier, and my mom used to work in the World Trade Center. I am grateful everyday my father forced us to move to Florida.”Donnalee Scharschmidt, Howard University junior, finance
“It taught me that the world isn’t all good, and that evil really does exist. It made me appreciate life.”Corryn G. Freeman, Howard University junior, political science
“The terrorist attacks just triggered a plethora of emotions – sadness, confusion, anger – and at times it was hard to separate them all. Most of my family lives in either California or Tennessee, so we were not directly affected, but I feel for the families involved.” Michael Ridley, University of Memphis
“My family is centered in the church, and when the attacks happened it made me think of some of the scriptures that are in the Bible and the last days.”Unique James, Howard University junior, accounting
“9/11 forced me to internalize that terrorism is real. I now question my safety in normally safe environments.”Brittney Gwynn
“I personally go to New York all of the time. I’ve had some wonderful experiences there, and it’s hard to believe that something that awful happened within the same space. New York is such an interesting place with different cultures and cool people. It’s sad that all of those families were changed forever.”Joel Donelan, University of the District of Columbia
“Honestly it didn’t. It’s kinda weird, but I always felt like I’m on the outside of the world just looking in. So when things don’t happen directly to me or to people close to me, I don’t realize when stuff is even real. Even when I visited Ground Zero, it was still unreal to me. I guess maybe I’m still in denial?”Kiara M. Weatherington, Howard University junior, fashion merchandising
“It was shocking that someone would devise a plan to hurt my residence. I was in ninth grade when this happened – did not really care though, until I knew a close family member died that day.” Lamine N’dour, Washington
“It made me afraid to go into the city and the airplanes and trains.”Shantel Hubbard, Long Island, N.Y.
Did the attacks make you value relationships more?“Any tragedy makes me value life more, not just 9/11. Disruptions in normal behavior, especially those involving bloodshed, tears or death, cause me to re-evaluate my life and how I cherish time and relationships.” Brittney Gwynn
“9/11 has changed the way I handle my relationships with people. I consider everyone important and try my hardest to express my gratitude and love for them each day. I never want to lose someone thinking, ‘I hope they knew I loved them.'” Brittney Adams
Now that it’s been eight years, what are your thoughts about 9/11?“The horror of the scene resonates in my mind every time I hear ‘9/11.’ I always envision the live video captured of the second plane crashing into one of the towers; the thought of it leaves me in awe. I believe it is one of the most horrific events in history and very unfortunate for so many American families.”Brittney Gwynn
“Will it be declared a holiday? Or will the towers ever be rebuilt? Is anything similar or worse possible now with all the heightened security?” Mathias Dunwoody
“It was really sad what happened to all those people, all of the lives shattered, all of the families split apart forever.” Mavia Hanson, Atlanta
What are your thoughts on terrorism? “I do feel as if the country is much safer than it was. I feel like if a terrorist attack were to occur again, we as a country would be better prepared. Even if this may or may not be true with many of the documentaries that have been produced since the attacks, I hope this country and this world is a better place.”Donnalee Scharschmidt, Howard University junior, finance
“It is almost teaching America a lesson. We need to leave other countries alone.”Jonathan Neil “It is a tragedy to know that so many people lost their lives at the hands of such cold-hearted individuals. I hope that such a disaster never happens again.” Mathias Dunwoody “We did not need to go to war. A lot of my friends were really ignorant, and I tried not to be.”Brianne Norwood
“In response to the attacks, it was the right thing to do, to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I tried to keep an open mind and not treat Muslims or Arabs any differently.” Jason White
What do you think of the rescue workers who repeatedly went back into the building to save lives?“Their efforts just proved to people everywhere that there are still genuinely good people in this world, despite the chaos and the evil surrounding them.”Michael Ridley, University of Memphis How do you feel about the way the media covered 9/11?“I feel like the media does what it always does, which is covering the event of the moment then moving on when something else happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s 9/11 or Michael Jackson, eventually the media moves on. For the time span, the coverage was effective. The media has an obligation to make Americans aware 24 hours a day, and that’s exactly what they did with 9/11.”Brittney Adams
“I just think it was too much; they played it over and over and over again. With it being such a major catastrophe, people don’t want the memories played repeatedly.”Mathias Dunwoody
Has 9/11 changed the way you travel?“I still fly, but I definitely pray before every flight and while I’m on the flight as well. I took a trip to New York that spring after the tragedy occurred, and that’s the first time I ever cried on a plane.” Brittney Adams
“I can’t relax before a flight now, because I have to go through longer security line checkpoints, and I have to be extra cautions about the people on the flight. I’m more aware of my surroundings.Mathias Dunwoody
“I’m not afraid of planes as I used to be. Nothing has really happened since.”Shantel Hubbard, Long Island, N.Y.
How do you commemorate 9/11?“Honestly, wherever I am I a take a moment of silence or small prayer because I wasn’t directly affected, but nothing too big.”Damon Epps – Reporting by Yetunde Alabi, Rianna Felder, Janell Heggins, Brittany Jackson, Courtney Johnson, Jeremy Johnson, Alleson Knox, Michael Olajumoke, Imani Pope-Johns and Taylor Weeks