Ten years ago, another generation of Youth Journalism International students got a note from an editor shortly after terrorists steered a second plane into the World Trade Center, begging them to write about their thoughts and reactions. A handful responded.
Katie Jordan, who’s now a volunteer editor at YJI, wrote this on Sept. 11, 2001 when she got home from school:
In World History, I was watching the news coverage on the TV as others around me chatted and giggled while the teacher was out of the room.
And as I watched a building collapse in a cloud of ash, as I watched innocent people run for their lives, it finally hit me.
Tens of thousands of people died today.
That means tens of thousands of families are waiting desperately for some hope that tens of thousands of loved ones will be home soon, safe and sound.
And they won’t.
All because someone wanted to make an impression. We don’t even know who it was or what cause they were willing to die — and kill — for. We don’t know why this happened. All we know is that people are dead and lives will never be the same.
And as I sat there, with this cold, horrible truth sinking in, the people around me were still chatting and giggling.
And that was the part that scared me worst of all.
In Singapore, Kaishi Lee, who opened the door for all of the international students who followed her, wrote that “America has been humiliated and threatened but “will rise to the challenge.”
Mike Nguyen, another mainstay from those years, wrote that in Mrs. Carter’s study hall room in his Connecticut high school “students used paper clips to make a makeshift antenna and got a scratchy reception of the World Trade Center.
“While waiting for my English teacher to get to class and open the door, we were invited into the study hall room to see a few seconds of the TV. All I got to see was billowing smoke, as if Mt. St. Helens erupted in the middle of New York City,” he wrote.
Melissa Luna, another student in Connecticut, described herself as “shocked and scared beyond belief” and immediately worried about what would happen next.
“I hope that our president thinks of the people who would get hurt if we went to war and that he doesn’t think of this as a ‘macho contest,’” Luna wrote. “I hope they act with the responsibility and dignity that we gave them when we elected them as our leaders. … I hope that this turmoil ends here.”
Another YJI standout, Hila Yosafi, who’s the daughter of Afghan immigrants, said she watched the television footage 25 times. As she listened to experts speculate that Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and “Islamic terrorists” were probably responsible, she thought, “It’s a great time to be an Afghan and Muslim!”
“If it is the work of bin Laden, which is just speculation at this point, I am truly ashamed and confused,” Yosafi wrote. “I don’t understand how mass killing of innocent people can be great for Islam. I just don’t get it.”
It was a memorable day for YJI, as it was for the whole world. And what our students wrote that day is now a part of the history of that awful moment, included in internet archives of what transpired and still read by many who are trying to understand how that day became a demarcation point between what came before and what came after.
We’re so proud that YJI’s students spoke up, quickly, firmly and eloquently, calling for peace and tolerance even in the midst of that nightmare.
One of our former students, Courtney Pendleton, barely escaped that morning. Attending New York University at that time, she normally stopped in for coffee and a bagel in the shops at the base of one of the Twin Towers. But she got delayed that morning dealing with a package and skipped her customary stop. She saw one of the planes plow into a building from the bus she was taking to class.
Now it’s a decade later. Those who were in high school and college then are mostly out in the working world now.
For young people now, the memories of that day are probably dimmer and different, if they exist at all. It’s hard for those who lived through that horror to imagine that intelligent, thoughtful people have grown up in the meantime who don’t have those awful hours scoured into their memories.
But they have grown up in the world created by 9/11 and they have much to say.
So please check in here in the coming days, read their words, and hope that their future includes days memorable only for their wonder and beauty.