The September 11th attacks occurred only a few days into my freshman year of high school. My high school isn’t exactly what you’d call average—it was a science and math magnet school of about 200 kids, and we were one of its first classes—and it’s less than 30 miles from Manhattan.
It’s safe to say no one in the building—not us 200 students, not the very young, largely new, teaching staff—knew what to do with ourselves that day. I do remember, though, that I was asked to give a speech at our memorial service on the First Anniversary—I think the idea was to have one student from each class speak, and being a member of the Student Council, I got the job. This certainly won’t go down in history as my best piece of writing, but it was enough to bring back not just memories of September 11, 2001, but also of the one-year anniversary: of how anxious I was about getting up in front of the school and trying to apply my experience to the general experience, and offer words that could help in some small way to address the still gaping wounds. It seemed worth sharing all these years later.
There are so many things I’ll always remember about September 11, 2001. But probably the strangest thing I remember, and something that really sticks out in my mind, actually happened before that day. It was September 10th and I was riding my bus home. Now, my bus is not one big happy family by any counts, but that day, Tupac’s “Changes” came on the radio. Nearly the entire bus began to sing it. At the time, I just laughed and marveled at how strange it was that the bus could unite on this one song. But by the next day, one line from the chorus had taken on a new meaning in my mind: “That’s just the way it is/Things will never be the same.”
Our school reacted amazingly to the horrors of September 11th. Maybe it’s because we’re such a small community to begin with. Everyday we show a lot of unity and togetherness, but at no time was it stronger than in autumn 2001. There were signs everywhere of our unity as a nation and as a school. Flags and anti-Taliban comics appeared on lockers. We had a patriotic chain link sale, with the funds raised going to the Red Cross. We had a voluntary assembly on September 15th at lunch; nearly the entire school gave up their lunch period to attend it. People were wearing red and white on certain days, but those colors seemed to be more popular In our wardrobes in general than ever before. A more patriotic look appeared on…well, everything.
But more than our appearances had changed; we ourselves had changed. To have something like this happen at the beginning of a school year is displacing enough. But my class had just begun to dip our feet into the waters of high school when we were quite suddenly thrown into a whole new world. We quickly found that there were plenty of people to help us through. Teachers became more lenient now when we went off on tangents, because we were discussing politics and other important things, not a movie or a T.V. show. Teachers and classmates were helping anyone who needed it, lending an ear to listen or a should to cry on. But perhaps the most touching thing was the concern shown by the upperclassmen. We were no longer the kids who were always asking for directions; we were the kids who were going through the same things as they were. It was simply amazing how quickly this group of strangers opened their arms to us.
So today, one year later, I remember the unity of our school when the world turned upside down. And next anniversary, I’ll remember it too. I know I will never ever forget that day, but I’ll never forget the people who took my hands and helped me through. No, things, will never the same, but I’ll always be thankful of where I was when it changed.