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College Students’ Unique Perspective on 9/11

AMHERST, Mass. (WGGB) — It’s quite possible that perspective changes most profoundly, most quickly, during our teen years, so, no better place than a college campus to find people who lived that transition in the decade since the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history.

“My mom pulled me out of school because my whole family was in New York City,” UMass sophomore Alex Katz told me Tuesday evening as I visited the campus in Amherst.  Like many of his peers, Katz, who was in fourth grade when the 9/11 attacks happened, couldn’t fully grasp the magnitude or significance of what was happening at the time.  Senior Chrissy Grote told me, “I didn’t really know what the Twin Towers were because I was in sixth grade, but after I learned what was going on, it was shocking”.

Most of today’s college students were in grades three through six when the unthinkable happened to America ten years ago.  Lawrence Frankel was barely ten miles from Ground Zero, at school in the Queens neighborhood of Bayside.  He says his current-day sentiment probably doesn’t differ much from most Americans’, even if his proximity to the terrorists’ first bull’s eye was closer than most.

“We all had to go to our gym; we had to wait overtime for our parents to come pick us up.  It was scary, we didn’t know what was going on.”

Nevertheless, even kids who were that young recognize at least some of how 9/11 has changed their lives, as evinced by Emma Murphy, who’s in her final year at UMass.

“We went abroad right after it happened, that following summer, and everything was different.”

A similar experience to those of many, including freshman John Pierce.

“I recently went to Florida, and I know the airport security measures are much different.  Everyone seems to be a lot more aware, too, of weird things going on.”

In some cases the changes are much more personal.  Senior Tara Sweeney’s second cousin – a New York firefighter – died trying to carry someone out of the Trade Center lobby.  She says the family keeps the memory alive.

“They definitely talk about it a lot.  It’s not something that’s kept quiet.  My uncle is a firefighter in New York City and he speaks out about it a lot.”

Despite the common bond of a long future to think about, college students don’t all agree about how much safer their world is … or will be.

Emma Murphy says “It’s always a thought in the back of your head, but you want to be able to trust security and the government”.

John Pierce isn’t quite as optimistic.

“I don’t think it’s any different.  It’s all just a semblance of safety.”

It seems every generation has a unifying defining moment, such as the Challenger explosion, Watergate, or the Kennedy assassination.  We can only hope today’s grade schoolers don’t have any major tragedy to galvanize them, and we don’t have this kind of conversation ten years from now, or ever.

I’ll simply log out with Alex Katz’s simple benediction: “Rest in peace, everyone who died in 9/11″.


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