To my beloved girls,
I am writing you this letter because when you were born, you already lived in a post 9/11 world. I am writing because you will ask me where I was when the Towers fell, just as I have asked my parents where they were when Kennedy was shot. You will ask where I was, since we ask for location and context in a feeble attempt to understand the emotion and meaning of the event.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I left Akers Hall, where your father and I lived for my job as a hall director during graduate school at Michigan State, and I headed to my practicum in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. That practicum would turn into a full time position after my graduation, which means on this 10th anniversary, I am sitting in the same rooms and walking the same hallway I did that day.
On that morning, I was in a meeting with my director and the assistant dean, planning a career fair, when the office assistant came into the room and told us, “Something’s happening in New York City. You better turn on the TV.” It didn’t matter the channel, since every channel was showing the two towers billowing smoke. I can’t possibly explain the emotion, the disbelief, the general feeling we all had that were watching some kind of bad movie. The next hour was filled with phone calls and check ins. All of this was prior to many of us having cell phones. Your Uncle Cory somehow tracked me down at my practicum to see if I had heard about Aunt Debbie (your grandmother’s twin sister) who worked in downtown Manhattan. I talked with my complex director to see if we heard from our former graduate student, whose husband worked in the Pentagon, and I talked with your father to learn that your great aunt and uncle lived only an exit away from the crash in Pennsylvania. It is a blur, but all were safe.
My director and I had to head to a meeting of all of the associate deans across campus. I remember walking into the Board Room in the Administration Building, with its huge conference table that seats fifty. Both of the projector screens were down, and CNN was being broadcast. There was just so much smoke. Then the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education started the meeting, and I saw a huge, research university move. Updates on students who were abroad. Check-ins with students from the NYC and DC area. Communication that would be sent to faculty. Counseling services that needed to be in place. As a graduate student, I was watching the university respond to a worst case scenario that no one could have possible imagined.
Later that evening, I would sit in the residence hall dining room with about half of my hall, glued to Peter Jennings on the big screen TV. We didn’t want to leave. We wanted to me with other people. My office was a perpetual lounge for the next three days, as I doled out boxes of Kleenex to my residents contending with their emotions on their own timeline.
I tell you all of this because you live in a different world that I grew up in, much of which is different because of what happened that day. My wish for you is this:
I hope you never experience the terror of that day. I hope you never see the hatred in people that made someone hurt other people in such a horrifying way that day. I hope you never feel the suspicious stares that many felt following that day, simply because their skin was darker or their religion was not Christianity.
I hope you feel the love that people had for each other after that day. I hope you feel the catch in your throat when you hear the National Anthem or see an American flag that I did after that day. I hope you still dream for a peaceful world and know that it is possible because you hear stories of everyday heroes from that day.
I cannot possibly imagine a September 11th where I do not feel the emotions as raw as they were on that day, but I promise that I will do my very best to ensure that you never forget the joy and love and humanity that September 11th uncovered.
With all my love,
Niki Rudolph is the Assistant Director of Academic & Student Affairs in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University.