Reporter's Notebook

Finally Finding Meaning In September 11

DELRAY BEACH, Florida – Last week, a lot of teachers tried to get me and my classmates to really think about and discuss the September 11 attacks, but they didn’t get very far.
We were six years old then, and no one could remember much.
“What do you guys remember from 9/11?” my history teacher asked our eleventh grade history class on Friday.
The class remained silent while we tried to recall memories from first grade.

Some kids told indifferent stories about what their parents experienced, others mentioned a name or two who died
in one of the World Trade Center towers, but most of us we couldn’t remember anything.
Nearly every teacher raised the subject of 9/11 that day, but as students who were too young to remember, we just tried to understand.
My peers spent the whole day rowdy and talkative during the designated moment of silence.
They laughed as the mixed chorus’ attempted to sing, “Unsung Heroes” and guffawed at the facial expression our chorus teacher made while belting out the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
It wasn’t until one of our teachers shared an essay from a former student – a boy who had lived in Manhattan and survived the attack on New York – that the lesson sunk in.
Thomas Panevino, who graduated from my Florida high school four years ago, had been a Manhattan seventh grader when he saw the horror of the attacks on his city with his own eyes.
Before learning Thomas’s story, I never knew what truly happened that day.
The never-ending clips of the twin towers falling were almost meaningless to me. Sure, it was a horrible tragedy that our country endured, but I didn’t personally know anyone who died because of 9/11.
As far as I was concerned, the events of that day were just irrelevant.
Not anymore.
I contacted Thomas and he agreed to an interview.
Since the days of my first grade, 9/11 has often been portrayed with the declaration, “We Will Never Forget,” but for me and many others my age, we never truly knew.
So on Friday, instead of answers our teacher’s question about how we felt about that day, we responded with questions for them.
“Who were the Taliban? What were you doing that day? What was it like?”
Perhaps it will be because people like Thomas and his family – and the many others who were affected by the events of 9/11 – share their stories that Americans will always remember the significance of the terrorist attacks.
Today, I have Thomas to thank for a new appreciation of that historic day.
Not only have I learned what happened, but also that life is precious, a true gift.
Because of September 11, I can honestly say that’s a lesson I “will never forget.”
Read Cresonia Hsieh’s news story about Thomas Panevino here.