Ten years ago, I was just a kid. I’m part of unique group of students who were in their first year of college on September 11. Just two weeks into college, I was still getting to know my roommate, trying to figure out classes, and falling in love with my new home at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, as planes were hijacked, I was fast asleep. My only class of the day was at 2pm so I planned to sleep until my roommate returned from her class around 11:30 and then we were going to lunch. That morning, I awoke a few minutes before 10am. I leaned over, grabbed my remote and turned on The Today Show. The first image I saw was the towers on fire. I was half awake and confused. Why was The World Trade Center on fire? Matt Lauer sounded really concerned, so I concluded it had to be for real. I’d had the TV on for maybe only a couple minutes when the first tower collapsed.
As I said, it was 2 weeks into school. So what was my reaction? I knocked on my RAs door. Actually, I banged on her door. I told her she should turn on the TV, that something was going on in New York. Then I walked down the hall, looking for anyone I could sit with and watch this. I was scared and I didn’t want to be alone. I found Susan Buckenmeyer (now a Student Org Policy Advisor at UT-Austin), eyes glued to the tv and we watched the second tower fall.
Our next thought, check our email from something from Wittenberg. The campus wide email explained that classes would be canceled and there would be a gathering in the chapel to pray and discuss what was going on.
The Wittenberg Chapel holds somewhere close to 2,000 people and it was full to capacity with students and staff. A few staff members and the university pastors discussed what happened for the people who’d been in class all morning and then we prayed for those stuck, for those who had died and for those trying to keep more people from dying. The rest of the day to me is a bit of a blur. There were talks that Wright Patterson Air Force Base might be attacked. There were talks that we would be at war the next week somewhere in the Middle East. But mostly, we just sat, talked, and wondered how it all had happened.
That evening is my clearest image of the day. A group of floormates and I went to grab dinner. About half way to the dining hall, we heard a plane. We all stopped mid step as did other folks in the street and looked up for what plane got clearance to fly that day. First we saw one F-16 fighter jet, then 2 more, then Air Force One, then 3 more fighter jet flying east. It ironically made me feel safer, like some important people were flying back to Washington to try and keep us safe.
Six months later, I was on my first Choir Tour which took us to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York. We arrived in New York City on the 6 month anniversary of 9/11. Our choir director, Dr. Busarow was dead set on us singing something in St. Patrick’s Cathedral even though we hadn’t called ahead to get approval to sing there. Dr. B asked someone working in the Cathedral if we could sing and that person got a manager who promptly told us no. Dr B, being the strong-willed man he is, had us line up anyway in the back of the Cathedral. We began singing the most beautiful hymn styled version of the Star Spangled Banner that can still bring tears to my eyes to this day. People stopped their touring to listen to us sing as our 50 voices echoed of the walls of one of the most iconic churches in the country. That evening, we were across the river in New Jersey hearing from teachers about the school children they stood in the street with watching the scene across the river. I can still see some of those faces in the crowd that night who cried as we sang the Star Spangled Banner. And the next day our bus driver dropped us along the back side of the World Trade Center, where the workers were entering to continue clearing out the rubble. I walked with a small group of friends along the memorials set up with pictures of loved ones and police and fire department patches sent from across the United States.
About a year later, on Wednesday March 19, 2003, I was again traveling with the Wittenberg Choir for our performance in the Columbus, Ohio area. After the show, we boarded the bus to find our driver fixed on the radio. As we drove home, we heard President Bush explaining the war in Iraq was already started. Dr B was silent and sat in the front of the bus just shaking his head. I never asked, but I imagine he was thinking about the wars he’d seen in his life, knowing what we were getting ourselves into as a country.
Overall, when I look back at my memories of those days, they are all connected to my time at Wittenberg. I also realize how much it shaped me. In some respects, i think it was part of why I decided to go into Student Affairs; it rose out of my desire to help students thorough the difficult events that occur while they are in college. And as I think about my students some of whom were as young as 7 on 9/11, I wonder how much they remember from those days. Most of their teachers wouldn’t have shown the coverage at school and I’m sure their parents shielded them slightly from the night and day coverage on TV. In the future, I hope we will start to add 9/11 to history classes to students can learn more about it than just headlines or Wikipedia articles. I hope we keep telling our stories of that day no matter how far we were from New York City on that day. Most of all, I hope we never forget.
Amber Sibley is the Assistant Director for Programming at the University of Dayton.