It’s strange how these things happen.
I wrote this genuinely as a reaction to September 11th. It just happened to also be for my scholarship to the University of Iowa. Written in December 2009, I was 17 years old and half-way through the final year of my adolescent 4-year educational career. I am now 21 years old and quarter-way through the final year of my four-year secondary 4-year educational career. People say “I haven’t changed,” but that doesn’t keep me from feeling completely different. So I’ve left this piece unedited and unabridged. This is how I wrote 4 years ago. Let me show how I have grown.
911: Growing Up to Grown Up
In one classroom, students sat focusing on their spelling test while in another a girl celebrated her eighth birthday. In my own classroom, I will never forget the color-by-numbers work of art I was creating. Our elementary school vice-principal fretfully peered through the door. Ushering our teacher aside, he whispered tensely. A low hush fell over the classroom as our teacher hurried toward the television receiver. Her trembling body stilled us into silence as she stumbled to dial channel three. Our minds buzzed with anxious anticipation; she had never acted this way before. As her strong character became numb and fragile, we waited for an answer to our unasked question: “What was wrong?” None of us were prepared for the images that pierced through our grave silence: the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
My child-like mind could not understand. We were all but children on nine-eleven, but after seeing the reactions of our principals, our teachers, our parents, and our country, by nine-twelve, we were all grown-up. The attack on the New York City World Trade Center left both Americans and Non-Americans shocked. It posed a perturbing question: if America can be attacked, who is really safe?
I could not comprehend the idea of attacking another nation with such viciousness. The concept was utterly foreign to me. My childish naivety led me to believe that there was only peace. I was completely shocked. Going home, a sinking feeling in the pit of my heart grew. I was not overcome by sadness, but by fear. I feared for my well-being. Would my family be attacked next? Bewildered, I looked towards my parents, seeking security from the horrific images repeating in my head. The empty disbelief on their faces from the attack offered me no solace. My parents’ eyes held the same questions I did. How could this happen? How could this happen to my America—my world—the fortress of strength, hope, and freedom that opened its doors to countless numbers of immigrants? Watching the news for the first time, I became painfully aware of all the threats faced around the globe. I was awakened to a world of suffering, poverty, and morbidity. This new, terrible world was behind a door I had not known was there. With the destruction of the World Trade Center, I was thrust through this door involuntarily into a real world where my childhood naivety did not belong. With this naivety stripped of me, I began thinking like an adult for the first time. Our country—our world—was not impenetrable.
The next day, I saw my one and a half year-old sister playing on the floor. The day before, I could have easily joined in her carefree fun, but now, she was the only one blissfully unaware. To her sheltered mind, September 11th, 2001 had been any other day on the calendar. To me, a different memory replaced that date. Not since World War II, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, had the United States faced such psychological trauma. This attacked affected all nationalities, but American citizens were the most deeply wounded.
Prior to September 11th, 2001, American life was placid. Americans were the young children of a mothering nation. Sheltered from the world’s suffering, Americans were unaware of life’s ever-present dangers. Because of her perceived protection, her children became complacent about their freedom. Americans, continuously coddled, believed that America was invincible to outsides threats. America’s children believed they were behind an impenetrable wall. I was this child of America. Blissfully unaware of any threats, I saw America as a safe haven. I did not know of government or politics. The first image I saw of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers was of their untimely destruction. Being a child, I was traumatized by the horrific images of people jumping out off the towers for a better chance at survival and those crushed not by the initial impact, but by the falling debris as they ran from the building.
If one had visited the site of the World Trade Center on the day it had been destroyed, one would have found cement, iron, and bricks tumbling askew to the ground amid the chaos of disaster. Yet, only six months later, a construction site replaced the war-torn area. How might I have guessed that a similarly threatening event would enter my personal life just as I was about to enter high school? After spending eight years cultivating relationships, academic status, and emotional well-being, I would be uprooted to a completely different environment. Ripped and torn away from my friends and the people I loved, I would be moved from Alabama to the State of Missouri. At that time, it felt more like the State of Misery. Just like the war-torn site in Manhattan was rebuilt, I rebuilt my own life and just six months later, my life was thriving. I established new friendships, joined clubs and even founded History Club. I flourished in my accelerated academic courses. My academic excellences led to my acceptance into the Summer Cambridge College Programme at the University of Cambridge, England. I thrived as a member of the second-ranked debate squad in the nation. I rose to become lead drum major performing with my high school band at the Sugar Bowl Competition-2008 in New Orleans. All of this would not have been possible if I had not learned perseverance in the face of strife—post nine-eleven.
Sitting in the front row of my classroom on September 11th, 2001, I felt the impact of this date on America and the world. This changed me. This changed the world. And now as I continue to mature, I truly feel the time will come when I will make changes of my own. I am seeking answers for myself. I refuse to take things at face value. I go beyond learning; I seek understanding.