On December 11th, 2001 at the White House Commemoration of September 11th, President George Bush declared that “for those of us who lived through these events, the only marker we’ll ever need is the tick of a clock at the 46th minute of the eighth hour of the 11th day.” That minute alone and the rest of that tragic, calamitous day are irrefutably significant and consequential in the lives of every American who witnessed the terrorist attacks unfold. Yet it is those of us in college, and those a bit younger and older, whose beings and outlooks have been forever defined and socialized by images of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon engulfed in smoke and debris and the heroic tales of the passengers of United Flight 93. We are Generation 9/11.
The majority of those currently enrolled in an undergraduate collegiate institution were between the ages of seven and eleven on September 11th, 2001. This point in a child’s life is critically important in regards to development and maturation. Children seven to eleven years old are intensely impressionable and have a very real awareness and understanding of the world around them. Nevertheless, children of this age group lack knowledge of how the world functions and just how complex society and people really are.
Deprivation of Innocence
As the nation struggled to rise from the ashes from that fateful day (both literally and figuratively), the uncertainty and questions surrounding these acts of terror took center stage. The events of September 11th robbed us of our innocence as we were forcefully introduced to ideas, concepts and beliefs far too grave and complicated for children to comprehend. Rather than learning about fractions, state capitals and homophones like traditional elementary school-aged students, we were inculcated with discussions about world politics, terrorism, and religion. We were no longer as carefree and naïve as we had been; in a matter of minutes, our world perspective was determined along with our lifelong lens for living and learning.
The Authorization of Animosity
Starting soon after birth, we are taught values such as compassion, respect, and reverence by our parents, relatives, teachers, etc. Once the nation revealed who planned and executed these acts of terror, our generation was collectively socialized to despise a single individual and the terrorist group with which he was associated. Society permitted this hatred, despite all the morals and ethics we learned and were in the process of learning. We carried this abhorrence with us as we continued on the journey of self-discovery through middle and high school. While this animosity may not have taken precedence in our daily lives or affairs, it remained looming in the background until we were able to free ourselves from this restricting sentiment on the night of May 1st, 2011 after President Obama’s unscheduled, televised press conference.
The Revelation of Our Authority Figures
September 11th, 2001 - a day that shattered our innocently-formed perceptions of the adults in our lives. Adults were our superheroes; they were all-knowing, perfect beings who could do no wrong. Typically, this idealized image that kids have of adults is not challenged until adolescence; September 11th, however, placed adults in an entirely new light for elementary school-aged children. As the Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon fell on that momentous Tuesday morning, adults all around the country also fell into states of unprecedented sorrow, indignation, and confusion. As kids, we looked to adults for the answers and comfort they were unable to provide.
The events that transpired on that typical-turned-atypical autumn day changed not only the course of history, but also the course of American life. For our generation specifically, these attacks on American soil are representative of a moment in time that would affect us irrecovably. Eleven years have come and gone since that morning the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Camp David, but our lifelong lens for living and learning remains forever influenced by September 11th, 2001. We are Generation 9/11.