I can still remember the exact moment, the exact place I sat in my father’s car, late to school, when the news of an event in New York City broke on the radio waves.
The next thing I can remember is being scolded by my third grade teacher for my lateness and overly imaginative mind that was surely the result “of reading too many comic books.”
Many of us will spend this anniversary, 11 years later, looking back on these memories, glimpses, of the tragedy that unfolded and brought us hurtling into an adult world that was left reeling for the next decade and beyond.
For us in the generation known as “Y,” we approach this day, 9/11, every year with a sense of profound memory. That, in itself, makes us no different from the hundreds of millions of Americans who woke up to have their lives changed that September morning.
It is not what we remember, but what we experienced, that leaves this event so unprecedented in terms of its effect on the whole generation of students now in their college years.
The ‘90s, the decade in which most of us began our childhood, was one of the most booming periods in American history. The economy was up, people had jobs and America had been out of major international conflict for just under a decade.
As young children, those in our generation had not lived through the days of uncertainty that preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union. We had not lived in times when our parents came home every day with hidden worries about financial, or to the more extreme, national security.
The most nearly comparable event, the bombings on Pearl Harbor, had followed many months of international war in Europe, a decade of shattered economic conditions. The American public looked ahead with fear that the coming days loomed darkly.
But on 9/11, the adults who awoke to blue skies that morning could not have foreseen the darkness that would be cast over the ensuing period as a result of that day. As the children who grew up in that optimistic life, our experiences on 9/11 and ever since have been absolutely unprecedented.
From my own recollection, I can remember trying hopelessly to understand the word “hijacking” as my father explained it to me.
I remember taking out my globe, spinning it to the opposite side of the world and placing my finger on the oddly shaped purple space marked “Afghanistan.”
These recollections, along with those of every student at this university, and in the country, represent a youth that was thrown into turmoil beyond comprehension.
If the next 10 years defined maturation of our generation, the 9/11 was our first awakening.
Now, 11 years later, we approach another anniversary. In the time in between, we have been eye witnesses to two global wars, rising gas and food prices, the collapse in the housing market and the bailout of companies once viewed as the workhorses of American manufacturing.
The noughties were the shadowed decline following the peak of prosperity in the ‘90s.
With another major political season coming this fall, the time has come to reflect on the issues of the past, and hope for the future. Regardless of political opinion, this time grants Americans the opportunity to take a rare look at who we are as we move ahead.
For college students, especially those who are defined by such a historic and calamitous event, it is our time to move past the last 10 years, and look forward to the next 10 as we, for the first time, have the opportunity to create our own decade.
As you inevitably take the time today to look back on your own memories of where you were and what you saw on 9/11, also take the time to think about where the world was before and what it has become.
It is time for us to take the events that built us and use our experiences to define us as the generation that built up from the ashes.
John Moritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.