Remembering, or Not Remembering, 9/11

The One World Trade Center. | Photo credit to Gabriela Kressley

The One World Trade Center. | Photo credit to Gabriela Kressley

 

18 years ago, 9/11 Memorial Museum security guard, Officer Barrett, sat in a classroom in Brooklyn. Expecting the day to be filled with grammar and math problems, her daydream in class was broken as she looked out the window and saw smoke billowing from the Twin Towers. Getting the attention of her friends and classmates, they all rushed to the window. Confused, the students questioned what was going on and why. Officer Barrett spotted a plane flying fast towards the city and fire immediately emitting from the buildings. Soon, sirens blared through the speakers and the students were sent home. 

Today, students of the New York Public School system stood for the Pledge of Allegiance on September 11, 2019. They are prompted to take a moment of silence. College or university freshmen are too young to remember, some had not been born yet. The students stand in solitude, not fully understanding what this day means for New York, the United States, and the world. They can’t remember what it was like on that morning 18 years ago. 

The usual bustle of the Financial District had been replaced with a solemn silence from workers rushing by and tourists alike. The monuments people walk by every day had transformed into sacred places, marked by bouquets of flowers and families standing by, paying their respects.

The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed six blocks south of the World Trade Center on top of the Battery Parking Garage in New York City to create two vertical columns of light to represent the Twin Towers in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. || Photo credit to Gabriela Kressley

The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed six blocks south of the World Trade Center on top of the Battery Parking Garage in New York City to create two vertical columns of light to represent the Twin Towers in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. || Photo credit to Gabriela Kressley

The sound of bagpipes gradually came closer, entering the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony through the back. In the front, families held posters with faces of loved ones and flowers to honor victims of the attacks. To those families, these attacks weren’t just clips on the news, or just names on a piece of paper, but lives, families and friends. 

Mark Billowitz, a construction worker, stood outside of the ceremony on the outskirts. He was there to remember what it felt like on that day. Born and raised in New Jersey, Billowitz was living in D.C. at the time of the attacks and was working as a carpenter. Soon after, he came back to New Jersey and noticed the changes in attitude and appearance of his home. 

“The biggest change I saw was in the skyline,” Billowitz said. “I saw the buildings when I was a kid, and then they were no longer there, and to me, that was the icon of New York City.”

For others in New York City at the time, the events were more than just a change in appearance. Clemente Lisi, a journalism professor at The King’s College, covered the attacks and the events that followed for the New York Post in 2001.

“That day was really traumatizing, shocking, but then it wasn’t just that day,” Lisi said. “It lasted for months and months afterwards when we covered funerals of firefighters and police officers along with the recovery effort. It was something that lingered for a very long time.”

When Lisi first started teaching at The King’s College, he noticed the blank stares from students as he would talk about 9/11. 

People outside the ceremony pay their respects. || Photo credit to Shannon Mason

People outside the ceremony pay their respects. || Photo credit to Shannon Mason

He began speaking about the event and trying to bridge the “generation gap” between students. This inspired him to write his 2018 commentary, “Never Forget: A Journalist Looks Back at the 9/11 Attacks to Educate Future Generations.” The commentary addresses what it felt like to be a journalist during the 2001 attacks, and informs young people about the magnitude of this event on the lives of everyone today. 

Krystal Seecharran, a freshman at The King’s College, was born and raised in Queens. Though she can’t remember the events of the day directly, Seecharran saw first hand how the attacks affected her daily life through the long-lasting effects on the city and her friends’ families.

“As a New Yorker, I have multiple friends who have parents and family members that died during 9/11,” Seecharran said. “Growing up in New York, you see these skyscrapers in every movie, everywhere you go and it seems like a staple—a constant—and then suddenly it’s just crumbling.”

For students in school today, 9/11 is seen as a sequence of faraway events from America’s past. For many all over the country, it was a mark in history that defined the way they think and live today. 

Beth Golden, a tourist from New Orleans, stood at a high point on Trinity Place in the Financial District, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ceremony. 

“I hate that sometimes we only remember it one time a year,” said Golden. “Every time you think about it, it brings that sense of gratitude.”

18 years later, silence fills Officer Barrett’s old school instead of the sirens on September 11, 2001. 

“It’s really good to learn about it,” Security Officer Barrett said. “At the end of the day, it’s always going to be a part of everybody’s life. Whether you’re young and you were just born into it, or whether you were old and there. It’s always good to broaden your horizons about it because it was life-changing for everybody.”