Remembering 9/11 as a 2001 baby

The decline of the American college is undeniable. Once considered a way to grow and broaden your mind, higher education is now increasingly seen as ideologically one-sided, promoting a single worldview and failing to encourage civil discourse. It feels like political division and mutual mistrust are at an all-time high.

But yesterday, I sat in a classroom dominated by post-2001 babies. I was one of just a handful of students who were (barely) alive on 9/11.

Thinking of Saturday’s anniversary, my professor told us about her experience that day. It was her first year of teaching, she said, recalling how drastically life was altered that week, even for a small Midwestern town. She explained how a fellow alumnus from her alma mater was on one of the hijacked planes.

Let’s roll.

My professor halted, mid-sentence, as she spoke of the man’s part in storming Flight 93’s cockpit, and of his suddenly widowed wife and unborn child. Ten seconds passed silently. When she continued, the room realized she was holding back tears.

She was surprised, she admitted after, that she had been so overcome with emotion. That had never happened to her before. She mused that it must be the weight of the 20-year anniversary.

Her story struck me. Most Americans understand how the shock waves of 9/11 reverberated through the country. Most understand how everyone was affected in some way; how life screeched to a halt, even in a small college town.

But many of us — many of us ‘Gen-Zers’ — don’t understand. We have lived through the ramifications and understand the gravity of attack itself, but I think the extent of that day’s reach is often lost on us.

Like many tragedies, this one apparently produced a profound, if fleeting, sense of shared feeling and humanity. It seems that collective shock and grief momentarily reached into every life and brought a country together.

To a young conservative on a modern college campus, that spontaneous unity is almost a foreign concept. Haven’t you heard? Division is everywhere, civility is dead, and we all hate each other because we have different opinions.

Yet a professor was unexpectedly moved to tears. And briefly, a room full of post-9/11 babies mourned with her. That deep-rooted sense of shared humanity was not lost. Maybe we are not lost?

Maybe in remembering this anniversary, we can remember to see the good in each other, too.