The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 took the nation completely by surprise and irreversibly altered the social landscape of the United States. They ignited tensions in the Middle East, set a new standard for national security and had an immeasurable impact on America’s demography and the way its citizens view it. But the attacks also created memories for citizens from every corner of the country – even in those that might have been too young to fully grasp its sheer impact right away.
“I remember being late for school [on September 11], and my best friend told me what happened,” said UWM freshman Shannon Quinn. “And I remember being confused about the time it happened. The time difference never occurred to me. It was hard to get through the day knowing that so many people just died. It was really weird, almost dreamlike. I didn’t understand what it meant.”
Quinn added that the true meaning of the events of that day really hit her when she got home. “I saw my stepdad cry for the first time. That was when it started to disturb me.”
UWM senior Sarah Skwierawski also has vivid memories of that day. “I remember being in class in 5th Grade,” she said. “I went to a Catholic school, and suddenly, everybody got up and went to church. It was mandatory. I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Skwierawski also talked about the little things that emphasized the magnitude of what had happened. “I remember my friend saying that her mom had called her before any of us knew. She said that she was coming home and not taking the flight to wherever she was going. Then I got home and saw the TV, and it all made sense. I saw my parents crying.”
The students were interviewed on the 12th anniversary of the attacks. Emotional as it was, it would seem as though people of this generation view 9/11 as a purely historical event with little to no personal ties to them. UWM students – many of whom were in elementary school at the time – are simply too young for the events of 9/11 to strike a personal chord with them.
However, Quinn believes that this day meant a lot for the solidarity of the American people, and offered an interesting point regarding the attacks. “American people should always stick together,” she said. “It shouldn’t have taken 9/11 to do that.”
Many students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee remember 9/11 quite clearly – despite the fact that a new generation of students who don’t remember much (if any) of it is emerging. While it was, for the most part, an emotional day for everyone at that age, it almost seems to have become more poignant as they matured to the point where they could fully grasp what happened.
When asked about her reactions to the attacks, Quinn offered an interesting response. “I didn’t react personally, and I still don’t,” she said. “But it’s sad knowing so many people died for no reason.” She went on to explain how this changed her views of the government, and how her faith in it was shaken. “It didn’t make me fear them, but it more so made me skeptical that they’re genuine.”
This indicates a split between those who remember; even though virtually everyone seems to have memories of that day, the conclusions reached by some students couldn’t be more different than others. Simply put, no two reactions to 9/11 are completely alike.
For example, Skwierawski reached a starkly different conclusion. “It was a lot to take for a 5th-Grade mind, but now I understand,” says Skwierawski.