Ten Years Later: How 9/11 shaped my life (and America)

On September 11, 2001 I was 11 years old and attending the 7th grade at Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School in Port Washington, NY. My parents both worked in Manhattan, and that day they both went to work — as usual.

While I was sitting in Science class at about 9 AM, my teacher, Ms. Colchamiro was called out twice to be told something. We had no idea what – we just knew that we enjoyed the extra minute to work on the science homework none of us had finished from the night before. She came back in looking shaken, but didn’t tell us anything. At about 10 AM, my family’s babysitter came to school to pick me up. I joked with my friends that I got an extra day off of school. Amy looked nervous. “What’s going on?” was the first question out of my mouth. “YOU DON’T KNOW?” she exclaimed – and whisked me back home to turn on the TV and watch the news coverage on my couch, eating a grilled cheese sandwich. My first thought was – “my parents!” – but Amy reassured me they were OK, that they had called her to ask her to pull my sister and I out of school. My parents came home on the last train that left Penn Station that day – we watched the coverage together and they held us tight. I am so very lucky that my mother was running perennially late that morning – she had a meeting at the World Trade Center but was stuck midtown at a different meeting. I shake thinking about that still today. Ever since then, I’ve given my mom exponentially less crap about being late for everything.

I was so blessed that both of my parents and all my family members were OK, but the real test for me came over the weeks that followed. In fact, I’d say that they played a major role in shaping who I am today. Friends had family members who were missing. I watched CNN coverage endlessly with my dad  – I was captivated. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher, an ex-army man, made us learn all the words to “Proud to be an American” and the official salute technique. When my friend was crying in our Science class because her uncle was missing, I went to the bathroom with her to try to console her – but I didn’t know what to say. My typical 11 year old optimism failed me completely. This was unlike anything I had had to deal with. It felt like life kept going but simultaneously stopped completely – everyone was unsure what to do.

9/11 shaped my political growth so completely and fully, that I wonder whether I would have the same interests and career path that I have today without it. When I watched all that coverage and learned about the situation, I gained a love for the news and a kind of excitement about knowing things as they happen. The political situations that arose out of 9/11 – the heightened homeland security, period of blind patriotism, and Patriot Act changed the way I thought about the government and the responsibilities of the media, and is what lead me to become interested in a career in media and communications – because messages are so important, and the way we deliver them is vital to how we understand the world around us.

It shaped our nation, too. It made us more nervous, more skeptical, more proud to be Americans. It gave us the blessing of the period of true united politics and citizens right after the attack, but it also gave us the most bitter division in politics in a long time after the unity wore off. We’ve become more at home in a state with heightened security, but it stripped America of its innocence in war and brutality – it was the first real attack on home soil, and that changed the way we felt about safety, immigration, and being Americans. For my generation, this was the event – which is why when Bin Laden was captured, we celebrated his death not because it was a death, but because it signified a victory in a decade of fear that had defined our lives.

I’m a little nervous in how 9/11 will be covered on its 10th anniversary – with every major news outlet and cable channel airing tributes. I’m sure they’ll all mean well, but it’ll be a bit much. The best tribute I’ve encountered so far is TIME’s 9/11 issue – go check it out. The photos are hauntingly beautiful, and the pieces and interviews are amazing.

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About beckawall

AU Alumni, feminist, master of peanut butter brownies. Lover of Teddy Roosevelt, politics, analyzing popular culture, and general nerdery.

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