The terrible, heartbreaking morning of September 11, 2001, I was preparing to welcome a new class at Stanford as well as preparing to greet the students I’d invited to participate in a five-year longitudinal study of writing. Waking up to the grim news left me, like everyone else, in a haze of shock and grief and sorrow: how could I believe what I was seeing on television as the planes blasted, over and over again, into the towers.
We immediately made plans to delay the opening of fall term that year, thinking that students might not be able to get to campus, or not want to get to campus during such a time of national mourning. But since our term begins fairly late in September, we were able to open on time, and to welcome this group of students, many of whom had lost friends or loved ones, all of whom were trapped between the horror that gripped the nation and the excitement of opening a new chapter in their lives.
Well over a decade later, I wrote to a number of the student participants in The Stanford Study of Writing, asking them to reflect on their first days at Stanford, in the wake of 9/11. Here are some of their voices today, on the 17th anniversary of the event.
I remember visiting my high school on the morning of September 11, for the last time before leaving for Stanford. My sister and I had been numbed by the news, but we went anyway to visit our former teachers. Then one of the things that is strong in my memory about that first week on campus is the acute desire I felt to establish myself as both who I thought I was, and someone more like the others. . . I came to Stanford to meet people, to discover new things, and most of all to learn. I . . . just wanted to sit in my room and read or write in my “electronic diary” as I called it at the time. –SK
I remember being depressed every morning waking up to a country at war. I remember being very angry and I was not anti-war at first. I’d say I’m still not into anti-war protests as I think it’s much more productive to be pro-peace as opposed to anti-war. –EL
When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was asleep on an old twin mattress on the floor of my sister’s room. M paternal grandfather was visiting, so he had my nominal bed and I was relegated to the mattress purchased for me when I was about 3. . . . Intellectually, I comprehended the event as a tragedy, but for the most part my emotions were muted. To me, the mass outpouring of grief had a hint of social manipulation to it . . . –CS
Like me, I think a lot of people had been home alone [on 9/11], most of their friends having gone off to college already, when the news hit. I am guessing it would have been a relief to talk and listen to actual people in place of sensationalistic news coverage. What I did feel strongly for a while was a sense that history, which had left me largely untouched to that point, had somehow started again and was setting into motion events that had the potential to be world-changing (in retrospect, and with the benefit of all that I learned at Stanford, I find this feeling problematic in a number of ways). –AC
The President pointed his finger to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda that night, as well as to the Taliban in Afghanistan. He announced the new Department of Homeland Security. He said, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” He said we would fight the War on Terror, and that it would have “decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion.” I realized this meant we would go to war. I was scared. –SA
The thing about the atmosphere of the country in September of 2001 that I remember is the intense xenophobia that was present in some places. For me, that was perhaps the most surreal thing. I simply couldn’t imagine how you would assume that all Muslims, all Arabs, or all people that wear turbans, were terrorists. Maybe as the sole representative of a minority in my high school, it was simply a given in my world view that everyone is an individual responsible for their own actions and a group can’t be blamed for the actions of an individual. Everything we did at Stanford about tolerance and not being judgmental during Orientation just seemed redundant to me. Looking back now, I understand how naïve I was in that way . . . but I still haven’t given up my sense of optimism. I think it’s one of the things that keeps me going as a teacher: I know that somewhere in their hearts, my students are good people. . . . –HS
As we welcome the class of 2022, the last class made up primarily of students born before the devastation of 9/11, it seems worthwhile to think about the reflections from these students of the class of 2005, looking back on that momentous day.
Here’s to them, and to the class of 2022.
Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2403465 by MonieLuv, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License