When September 11 is Barely a Living Memory

Photo by Colton Dunham

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, UW-Milwaukee freshman Ben Gaddour was learning about Native American culture in his second grade class at University School of Milwaukee.

He remembers the frantic phone call his teacher received in the middle of the lesson. Gaddour and his classmates sat quietly as they watched their teacher turn on the television and nervously positioning it towards her.

“I asked her what was going on, but she didn’t say,” Gaddour said. “She kept her cool and before I knew it my mother picked me up from school. I remember feeling confused. I really didn’t know what was going on at the time.”

Gaddour is only one of an entire generation of college freshmen who are unlikely to have experienced that fateful day as a living memory or to have faded memories of emotions such as fear and confusion.

The student spoke on the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took the lives of over 3,000 people. Gaddour and other students interviewed said that those who were old enough to understand what was going on that day might feel a more profound impact than those who were too young to comprehend what was actually happening.

UW-Milwaukee junior Lauren Miller said that she was initially confused about what had happened. Miller, who was in the third grade at that time, said that it really sunk in what had happened after her father explained.

“We all watched at school, but again, none of us knew what was going on,” Miller said. “Parents came to get their kids from school. When I got home, my dad explained to me what happened and showed me photos he had taken of the twin towers during his time in the military. It sunk in a bit, seeing clips on TV, seeing where two buildings used to stand and then looking at my father’s photo of the two buildings standing tall above the city.”

UW-Milwaukee sophomore Sean Lyons was in the third grade at Steven Foster Elementary in Appleton, Wis. He said that he wasn’t able absorb what exactly was going on when he first heard about the attacks because of his young age.

“I remember everyone, particularly the teachers, making a big deal about it and assuring us that we were all safe, but at the time I wasn’t able to absorb much of what the impact would be or why people would desire to crash a plane,” Lyons said.

Ben Gaddour feels that he wasn’t as emotionally affected by the attacks because he was too young to comprehend the impact that the event had. Gaddour suggests that it would be a different story if he were a college freshman during the time of the attacks.

“As a kid, you really don’t understand how emotionally affected you are,” Gaddour said. “If I were 19 back then, it would be a much different story. I would’ve reacted differently,” Gaddour said.

Sean Lyons suggested that our impressions and perceptions of certain events evolve as one grows up. Even though some young college students were initially confused, they grew up to realize just how impactful the day was in American history.

“Often the first impression of something evolves as one grows up. I’m in the same boat as them due to our inability to recollect that day,” Lyons said. “How we feel about it now is what’s important.”