Friday, September 09, 2011

9/11 and today's undergraduates.

In anticipation of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 - which I will mark with another post on Sunday - here are some perspectives on the tragedy from current students at my undergraduate alma mater. The Georgetown Voice has a cover story on the anniversary; the actual cover provides the illustration for this blog post. Meanwhile, today's edition of The Hoya has two opinion pieces on the anniversary, the first coming from the editorial board:
Almost all Georgetown students will be able to tell you where they were that sunny September morning 10 years ago. Most of us were still in elementary school, yet undeniably Sept. 11, 2001 was a political awakening for our generation. The subsequent years shaped our conception of not only world politics but also of America's identity.

For some within the Georgetown community, it was a day of great personal loss. For others, it was a day when we saw our neighbors suffer and felt solidarity with both them and America as a whole. For all, it was a devastating wake-up call.
The line about how "[m]ost of us were still in elementary school" offers me yet another of the many reminders I regularly receive, as a teacher of undergraduates, of the generation gap between me and today's college students. I was a 1L at Notre Dame when 9/11 occurred, a recent college graduate just old enough to have vivid memories of the Cold War. For today's college students, meanwhile, the War on Terror "has spanned basically all of our political lives," to once again quote a Georgetown undergraduate cited in an earlier post. In this context, the final paragraph of the Hoya editorial also seems worthy of special attention:
Almost all Georgetown student will be able to tell you where they were on that warm Sunday evening this May. As President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed nearly 10 years after the attacks, the boogeyman of our youth disappeared. We have finally achieved a measure of closure. It is only fitting that 10 years later, we can reflect on a day of national tragedy with a mix of sorrow and pride in America, and particularly in our generation's perseverance and commitment to freedom, democracy and peace.
As I have noted before, the death of Osama bin Laden seems to have a somewhat different resonance for Millennials than it does for people my age and older; I suspect that the same holds true for this tenth anniversary of 9/11. For another perspective on this, here are the opening paragraphs of The Hoya's second 9/11 anniversary piece, an op-ed by Michael Palmer (COL '12):
Trauma has an astounding effect on the memory. I can recount pretty much most of my memories from September 11th, 2001. I was 11 years old, sitting in sixth grade English class when the planes struck the towers.

I remember sitting next to my friends at lunch, one boy explaining to me exactly what the Pentagon was. I remember watching one of my best friends escorted from the cafeteria in tears. His mother was supposed to be at work at WTC 7. Another girl was quickly ushered out along with her brother. Their father was in the north tower. Another friend just disappeared altogether — her dad had been on Floor 81 in the south tower.

My suburban town in Northern New Jersey lost 11 lives that day. My father was working in the city, and his company was only alerted to the chaos when my mother called to see if he was evacuating. He eventually made it home — 12 hours later — after having to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The emotional impact of September 11th wasn't just felt by those who lost loved ones, at least not in the mid-Atlantic region. Everyone was connected to multiple memories and stories from that day. A neighbor, working on Wall Street, described how he watched people fling themselves into the sky. My father recounted how he walked along a deserted Fifth Avenue, awed by the sight of the nation's richest street left a ghost town. A friend's mother, who was late to work, stepped off the ferry, watched the Towers burn and immediately stepped right back on to go back home to her children.

For me, I saw the attacks the same way the rest of the world saw them — through the news camera lens. I remember my mother planting me in front of the television, saying, "Tell me everything you see," as she tried to calm down a close family friend on the phone. Her husband was supposed to be at the World Trade Center that day.
For the rest, click here. My prayers this weekend will be for the victims and survivors of 9/11 and their families. AMDG.


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