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9/11 in the Minds of Youths

It was the eighth grade and the beginning of third period. The teacher was sitting at her desk lecturing about poems and asking the class what the word “fire” symbolized in the poem that was assigned as homework. I looked around the classroom and saw blank stares on some of my classmates’ faces. Others were looking down at the floor trying to avoid eye contact with the teacher.

I wanted to raise my hand and share my answer, but I was afraid that I would be incorrect. I fought the hesitation and my hand finally went up. The teacher nodded at me and I said, “Love. The fire in the poem symbolizes love.”

She agreed with me and I felt a relief on my chest. My classmates felt the same way as I did because their facial expressions were more relaxed. They no longer had to worry about avoiding eye contact or being called by the teacher.

As the teacher proceeded with the lecture, I noticed that students were being called to the principal’s office via the intercom. Every five to ten minutes, someone who I knew was mentioned. I wondered what was happening and why so many students were being called to the principal’s office. Little did I know what was to come.

I never expected to hear my name through the intercom. I can still remember the secretary say, “Francesca Figalo please report to the principal’s office.” Everyone in the classroom turned to look at me and I heard one of my classmates say, “What did you do?” Nothing. I hadn’t done anything bad. I was a good student and couldn’t possibly think of anything that I could have done wrong.

As I walked through the hallway that led to the principal’s office, my heart was racing and my hands were shaking. When I entered the room, I saw my mom sitting on a chair by the secretary’s desk. I was surprised to see my mom there. Before I could speak, she stood up and walked up to me. She told me that she was taking me home because something terrible had happened, but she wouldn’t tell me the details. As I ran to my locker to get my books, more students were being called to the principal’s office.

On the way home, my mom explained to me that two airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and that many people had died. When I asked her why, she replied that terrorists had hijacked the airplanes to attack the United States. Terrorists? I was not familiar with that term. It must have been because I had never heard of it before or because I was too young to understand the meaning of “terrorist.”

But I wasn’t the only adolescent who was confused about that day or who didn’t know what the term “terrorist” meant. Daneila Blake, a junior majoring in public administration, was 10-years-old when 9/11 occurred.

“I really don’t remember much. I was at school, they made an announcement and then we went home early,” said Blake. “I didn’t understand what they meant by terrorists [attacking] the World Trade Center. I didn’t understand anything; it took me a few years to understand and actually process what went on.”

Ryan Gaydos, on the other hand, remembers playing a guessing game with his classmates.

“I was sitting in Mrs. Blair’s classroom in the fourth grade of my grammar school,” said Gaydos, a junior majoring in journalism. “All I remember is that a lot of people were leaving school that day and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought it was funny, so my classmates and I played a game seeing who would be next to go.”

But just like Blake, Gaydos did not understand the concept of terrorists attacking the United States.

“When my mom told me what happened, I didn’t really feel anything at the time because I did not know the extent of the damage,” said Gaydos. “I didn’t know what it meant that terrorists attacked America. All I was told was to not watch the news that day; only Nickelodeon.”

Back at home, I did watch the news. I saw how the first and the second airplane crashed into the World Trade Center. I saw the fire escaping from the towers and the smoke traveling toward the sky before the towers sat on themselves, disappearing in the dust. I saw people who were interviewed on the streets of New York City crying. But they weren’t the only ones I saw crying; my family was crying too.

I thought about the fire from the poem and the fire escaping from the towers and knew it wasn’t the same fire. This one did not symbolize love; instead, it symbolized war.

Francesca was born and raised in Sicily, and speaks Italian fluently. She migrated to the United States with her family when she was 11-years-old. Francesca did not speak English when she arrived in the U.S., but that did not stop her from continuing to be a good student. She always enjoyed learning and opening her mind to new ideas and concepts. Francesca's favorite quote is "Veni, Vidi, Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered) by Julius Caesar. That quote doesn't only relate to Francesca migrating to the U.S., learning a new language and adapting to a new culture, but it also relates to her battle against cancer. She was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in 2005 and completed all of her treatments in 2006. She has been a cancer survivor since then. Francesca continues to live her life to the fullest and to achieve success. She is currently a Communications/Journalism student at Kean University, NJ. Prior attending Kean, she attended Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, NJ, where she earned her Associate's Degree in both Communications and English. Francesca is passionate about writing and editing. She has written several news and feature articles for The Tower, Kean's student newspaper, and she is currently the Head Online Editor for The Tower. Francesca is also an intern at www.thealternativepress.com, where she covers events and meetings in Westfield, NJ. Her career goals include writing feature stories for The New York Times and eventually, launching her own magazine company. When she's not busy, Francesca loves to spend time with her family and her friends. She enjoys cooking and creating new recipes, watching movies with her boyfriend and simply relaxing. After the fall semester is over, she plans to launch her own blog about her two favorite topics: fashion and food. A little advice from Francesca: "You can do anything you set your mind to."
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