For Ryan Thompson, the memory is still clear. He sat with his seventh-grade classmates: All silent, all stock-still, and all staring intently at the classroom’s television.
Over and over again, Ryan watched the planes pile at full-speed into two skyscrapers he’d never seen before. People staggered through clouds of dust and ash. Ryan’s classmates turned to their teacher for an explanation – but received only a helpless stare. Confusion and shock knotted Ryan’s stomach.
He feels that same knot each year.
Now 26 and a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Ryan fears that incoming freshman have never felt the knot and never will. Most of this year’s freshmen would have been about six-years-old. That may be too young to have felt the singular emotions that the UWM’s juniors and seniors still associate with the event today.
It’s possible that this year’s freshmen are unable to share the national unity that upperclassmen do each anniversary of 9/11. Those older students interviewed seem reluctant to believe 9/11 will live on as a vivid, sensory memory for younger generations of students at UWM. However, freshmen interviewed say that 9/11 may have a bright outlook as a memory for younger students, sensory or not.
Alyssa Cvikel is one of those UW-Milwaukee freshmen. Now 18, she was a first grader when the towers were hit. She can still visualize the moment.
“I can vividly see the buildings on fire” said Cvikel. “The teacher had the news on for an hour straight.”
She recalls, speaking as if to herself, her mother frantically pulling her into a hug as she walked into the front door. Even today, she can sense her mother’s feelings of relief.
According to Cvikel, however, other freshmen are unlikely to have similar sentiments for 9/11.
“A lot of my friends didn’t see anything. They just heard about it,” said Cvikel.
This national ignorance appears to be the fate of generations to come. Emily Coonen, 22-years-old and a senior at UW-Milwaukee, recalls watching smoke billow from the destruction of the towers on her family’s television screen. However, she senses that 9/11 will be no more than a history lesson to her children.
“I’m sure when my kids are in school, it’ll be in textbooks,” said Coonen. “I think it’s something everyone should remember.”
Despite Coonen’s hopes, 9/11 could cease to be a memory and begin its long tenure as a paragraph in history books while younger generations join the university and older ones filter out. According to Thompson, 9/11’s memory will follow the same path that one other homeland attack has.
“Just another day in history, comparable to Pearl Harbor,” said the human resources student.
Although this prediction might appear negative to older students, the same can’t be said for freshmen like Cvikel. To the nursing student, threading the memory of 9/11 into the nation’s history may the best way to preserve it.
“We should be aware. You can learn from history,” Cvikel said
Thompson views 9/11 as a nationally understood experience, saying that he felt making images from the news available to future students would help them to understand the feelings that the event stirred up. It’s possible that students like Thompson will provide those images for UWM’s future freshmen, as they are still able to go back to what was almost was a typical Tuesday and watch the news in disbelief, jaws clenched and stomachs knotted.