It’s a little intimidating writing about something that has been covered so thoroughly by people a lot smarter and more eloquent than I am. But as this day falls during my 30 Day Challenge, I would feel amiss if I did not chime in my thoughts and feelings on 9/11.
Every American over the age of 17, I’m sure, remembers where they were when they heard the news that America had been attacked. I was in the first month of my junior year of high school. I sat in the front row of US History with Mrs. Weberding. Our classroom was right next to the administrative office at the front of the building. On that fateful morning, soon after the first bell had rung, someone from the office stuck their head in the door and told us to turn on the TV. Mrs. Weberding switched on CNN and we watched a frantic reporter speaking in front of the World Trade Center as smoke poured out. I had never even heard of the World Trade Center. The reporter didn’t know what she was seeing; there were rumors but nothing was certain.
Then we watched in confusion as something small and black came into the screen. It slammed into the second building and we realized it was a plane. We continued to watch, unable to turn away. Our class of 15 and 16 year olds sat memorized and sickened as small people on a screen jumped to their deaths, rather than be burned alive. Horror gripped us collectively as the South Tower collapsed and then 29 minutes we witnessed the North Tower meet the same fate. We filed from class to class, some in shock, and others in a panic. We begged for the TV to be left on in each new class.
This day, 12 years ago, was a turning point for my generation- Generation Y. It was the end of our innocence. We witnessed the horror of hate first hand. We learned what it meant to fear. In the coming days, weeks and months we also learned what it meant to be an American. Flags came out of the garage and flew off the shelves. Red, white and blue ribbons were on cars, pins and purses. It still brings tears to my eyes remembering how proud I was of my country, how proud I was of my countrymen and women. I felt solidarity with those around me based on shared ideals and principles. It was the first time in my young life that I was cognizant of these feelings. I was not alone; my friends and classmates felt the same.
In many ways I believe 9/11 changed us as a generation. We saw the country come together after a tragedy. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party…it didn’t matter. We were one and we were strong. It made a lasting impression upon my psyche that still informs my decision making to this day.
This singular event redirected my path, without me being aware. I yearned to serve my county in some way. In college I volunteered with AmeriCorps. After graduation I continued in the Peace Corps. Once again, I was not alone. Many of my high school and college friends joined the armed forces as officers after they obtained their bachelor’s degree. Several of my friends joined me in Peace Corps service. USA Today wrote about my generation in 2006. In the article called Getting Involved, which was written when I was senior in college and in the midst of the Peace Corps application process, it talks about college students drive to volunteer and their desire to work in the government later in life. Yet, these same students were oddly non-political. Well, odd for USA Today, maybe. But it makes perfect sense given the atmosphere during our formative years! To this day, I remain largely non-political, as are many my age. Oh, we may have our opinions but the partisan politics being perpetrated by those a generation or two (or three) older than us- it’s disheartening and something of which we want no part.
This desire to serve continues today. In 2011, CNN reported that in the previous five years applications to AmeriCorps had tripled. Every day I interview 20 somethings who want to dedicate the next two years of their lives to helping others and improving the image of Americans abroad. My Generation is stereotyped negatively quite often. We’re seen as lazy, entitled and disloyal, just to name a few. But I see a generation that is motivated by passion and making a difference. We expect more of the world and we work hard to make our expectations become a reality. Disloyal? We may not be loyal to a particular company or position. We like options and we are very flexible. But we are loyal. We are loyal and uncompromising when it comes to our principles, our purpose and our goals.
Twelve years after the devastating events of 9/11, I am thankful. I am thankful that I saw a nation unite. I am forever grateful to have grown up in the shadow of my parents, warriors, who fought for the freedoms that we share. And I am proud to be a part of Generation Y- a generation that is bent on making a positive difference in the world.