I am part of the paradigm shift generation of 9/11.

We embody a group of Americans who lived two childhoods: pre and post-9/11. 

Born roughly between the years of 1988 and 1993, we spent the first part of our childhood in the 1990s in a country of seeming invincibility. Immediately following the Cold War, we were born into a time of relative peace as the beginning of the Information Age was upon us.

In school we read textbooks about the American Revolution, but never truly appreciated the freedom it gave us. We saw pictures of poverty during the Great Depression and the disease-filled trenches of World War I, but couldn’t comprehend any horrifying scenario occurring in our day and age.

Because we were born into a country of such prosperity and economical stability, we took all we had for granted.

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was just the routine to start the school day. Memorizing the Preamble of the Constitution merely meant a solid test score in history class. The American flag was merely a pattern of stars and stripes, not seeing it as a representation of hard-earned liberty.

But when the Twin Towers fell on that day in 2001, our innocence fell with them. In a moment we felt a rapid paradigm shift from the protection of our childhood and into the reality of a War on Terror.

Suddenly the ground of the once peaceful land we walked on felt unsteady. Our youthful hopes came to a screeching halt as our entire country stopped in one single instant. All that we had ever learned about our country felt as if it were being shattered into thousands of sharp pieces that cut into our naivety.

On the same television that we grew up watching cartoons were abrupt images of planes crashing into buildings, terrorists striking civilians and a war imminent in the Middle East. All of this was not happening hundreds of thousands of miles away, but on our own soil, in our own dwelling place and to our own people.

Even though we began to realize the terror that engulfed our nation after 9/11, it was also the time where we witnessed first-hand what America truly exemplified. We learned of the valiant acts of courage and bravery that policeman, fireman and everyday civilians possessed in New York City on the day of the attacks.

For once in our young lives we saw people crossing all cultural barriers and standing together simply as Americans. In our country’s greatest time of need, we were assured that the United States of America was a country that earned its freedom. And that freedom would not be suppressed by any group, institution or attack.

No longer did we have to read The Gettysburg Address to believe the heart of America. No longer did we have to memorize parts of the Declaration of Independence to comprehend what freedom was. Now we did these things as a result of understanding the triumph of our great country.

After 9/11 the world felt like a scarier place to live in. Yet our generation possessed a newfound appreciation for the country that we were all privileged to be born into. 

On behalf of the paradigm shift generation, we pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives on 9/11-- for all of you allowed us to truly taste the freedom of America.

Garrett Kling is a Minnesota-based writer. His website is http://thebangbangpop.com