9/11 and My Generation

By: Jake Serwer, Fox News Sunday Staffer

September 11, 2001 was a date that fell during the calendar in the first early weeks of my freshman year of high school. As a fourteen year old, I vividly recall the trauma, uncertainty and near-hysteria of attending and preparing for my first week of classes, while at the same time experiencing my first football game as a student fan under the Friday night lights of a cool autumn night in Michigan.

Everything about the first week in September as an incoming high school freshman was ordinary, and ordinary in the sense that all was normal, customary, and in place as things were understood to be. Students gathered in hallways to chat about classes, the good and bad teachers they had encountered and typical teenage stuff, such as how long until one could obtain a driver's license. Boys talked about girls, girls talked about boys. The far-off homecoming dance was discussed and who would be going with whom. This was a textbook safe, secure, predictable and iconic small suburban town first week of high school, as repeated year after year. However, that overwhelming sense of familiarity, history and security in our time-tested traditions and customs vanished immediately during the second week of high school when the school's principal made the announcement that planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and into a farm field in Pennsylvania. Our country was under attack.

Like all Americans on that horrific day, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the alarming news. I sat in my second period speech class, taught by Mr. LaBond. He lectured about public speaking, insisting that the number one fear in America was indeed public speaking. Ironically, when my class heard the announcement about the attacks, the room became speechless. Honestly, I didn't know what to think at first. I could barely process the information coming in. There was a moment for about 30 seconds right as the announcement concluded where the room was silent, not like the silence of a library, but like the hush of the crowd while a football player is lying motionless on the ground after a hit to his head. This kind of silence means trouble. Soon after the class ended, students gathered in the cafeteria to watch the news reports on television. That's when it hit me that our country would never be the same. New York would never be the same. Personally, the worst part about watching the footage of the planes crashing into the towers came not from what I directly witnessed, which was already unimaginable, but from my own thoughts and speculations of what the passengers on board the planes were thinking right before they were killed. That instilled more fear in me than anything.

September 11, 2001 ("9/11") forever changed the United States. Ten years have passed since the horror and shock of that awful autumn day, but the memories still remain. Like many people around the country, I was in disbelief when our country was attacked. For the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable and defenseless, as was the case for all Americans - not just fourteen year old high school freshmen. All of us eventually learned that a radical terrorist group, al-Qaeda, and its leader, Usama bin Laden, planned the attack, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans, from distant shores.

Throughout my life, I heard stories about Pearl Harbor from my grandparent's generation, but this was entirely different. This was New York City. This was Washington, DC. This was innocent Americans jumping out of burning buildings, plummeting to their death, because it was the better option. Ten years later, my generation, the "9/11 generation," essentially grew up in a different world than that of our parents.

We later learned about al-Qaeda and their terrorist operations, but this was not like the previous enemies our country had faced. In addition, most of my generation's parents lived through the Vietnam War era and were leery of committing our young people to war against an unknown enemy. President Bush made a speech a few weeks after 9/11 calling on all Americans to go back to their normal lives - enjoy life, go shopping, travel and take your kids to Disneyland. And that's exactly what my generation did. We went back to our routines. We finished high school. We went to the prom. College. The reaction of my peers was essentially non-reactive.

Americans were closely united after 9/11, and for a brief moment we came together, extending our hands and hearts to those whom we did not know, offering kind words to those in need of comfort. Political affiliation did not matter. Americans were unified and we had each other's back.

After ten years, it's obvious that America is going through trying times. We often blame each other instead of lifting each other up. My final message to my generation... we should have taken the opportunity in the months following 9/11 to keep the unity going. It's not too late. We can and should be unified again.