Inspired by others, I write this piece to offer my perspective on how September 11, 2011 impacted me. To share my story.
In the morning on September 11, 2001, I can remember the exact place I was when I started hearing rumors circulating that there was an attack on the World Trade Centers. Of course, we didn’t know or think it was an attack at that moment. I was sitting in my high school pre-calculus class. It was my junior year and I was 16, two months away from being 17 and having my full licence to start my independence. College was a secondary thought as I was more concerned about getting a girlfriend and our next football game then what was down the pipeline.
People were whispering what they had heard and even then the full scope was never revealed. We didn’t have much connection to the outside world, there were no smartphones, no social media, and the internet was limited to a few rooms with computers and even if we did find one CNN wouldn’t load and the internet was at a crawl. Our teachers remained calm but they were as worried as us. They tried to teach their subjects, to keep our minds off what was circulating around the school.
We had heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Now this had not been the first time a plane had crashed into a building I had heard of but I had always seen the small propeller planes hit a house or even the White House. However, I never had thought of this. As we started to get more details, they came in through whispers. Most of us didn’t have cell phones and had to use the one pay phone in the school to call out.
I remember trying to pay attention in class but was wondering what had happened. Later that day, all after school activities were cancelled and I finally got through to my parents to arrange a pick up. Details were still short coming when I could get through with all of the phone traffic due to my proximity to the city but I remember my mother telling me that there the towers had been hit and there were dozens of flights unaccounted for and that Washington, D.C. may have been hit. I remember seeing people crying in the hallways, falling down out of worry if one or both of their parents were in the blast. People were missing and no one knew where they were. It was a scary time.
After I finally got home later that day, all I remember is sitting down in front of the TV with my family and watching. Peter Jennings talked about the events of the day and recapped at points unable to keep even his solid composure. The video was jarring as you saw a passenger jet hit the towers. Still to this day, I get goosebumps thinking about it.
I would also find out that relatives of my friends and classmates were safe. Some of these individuals normally worked on the floors impacted by the explosions but they were running late. They missed their train or slept through their alarm. Others were not so fortunate. My former guidance counselor, one who had impacted me positively, lost her husband in the aftermath. She had just left her position at the school and given birth to their child. Looking back, I didn’t quite understand the impact but now I couldn’t imagine such a situation happening to my soon to be family.
Looking back, I don’t know how exactly it impacted me. I was not in college yet, so I had no idea that I wanted to help people, I had no idea what Student Affairs was. However, thinking back this was a time when I wanted to help someone as I saw those first responded and random people helping others stand up and get out. Ten years later, as I am 3 months into my first full time Student Affairs Professional position, I look back and remember every day that someone can make a difference and can be strong for others as all of the firefighters, police, port authority workers, volunteers and the passengers of flight 93. Not everyone can be a hero but everyone can do something for the greater good. Many people lost their lives that day but they made us all proud to be Americans and gave us something to keep in our mind: Hope. That hope drives me every day and drives to me helping others.
Gary Honickel is a Residential Life Coordinator at the University of Texas at Dallas.