Politics and world affairs had always played a minor part in the daily discussions and gossip I shared with my friends, but they were never very important to us because the meaning of our American citizenship has always been taken for granted.

We had been sheltered all our lives, and our lives have been, for the most part, perfect. Freedom was something our country won long ago and it didn’t concern us.

But that all changed Tuesday morning when I turned on a local radio station by chance at about 6:45 a.m. (PST) as my Dad drove my sister and me to the school bus stop. I will never forget the feeling that swept over me as I heard the words, "the Pentagon is being evacuated." We gathered more news at my bus stop, as each of us had heard different pieces of the story. Some of the kids were laughing and joking about it, while others were in shock as they realized that they were living through a "first." Never in our entire lives had a direct attack by a foreign terrorist of such monstrosity been made on United States soil.

In the end, we all just gaped at the television screen in third period bible class as we heard "thousands presumed dead." Reality began to set in as President Bush addressed the nation. His opening words, "Freedom has been attacked," rang undeniably true, I believe, in all of us. I was reduced to the point of tears, but luckily was "saved by the bell" for lunch. The cafeteria did not get much business that day because no one really felt like eating. By then, even our school’s cruel, sarcastic jokers had realized the seriousness of what had transpired.

I believed we all began to feel a deep patriotic connection to our country and felt a renewed sense of pride for America. It is our home, where we were born and raised, lived wonderful lives and would continue to live out—thanks to people willing to uphold it. The thought that people, so much like us, had leapt from the upper floors of the World Trade Center, preferring a quick death to the choking smoke was so shocking, moving and horribly real that all I could manage to do was shake my head. I was angered that because of this act of terrorism my fellow American citizens—who I am now more than ever proud to call my peers—were reduced to choosing how they would die.

America’s youth is often seen as rebellious, perhaps even unfeeling and uncaring. But from what I have seen from my friends—and even those who are not my friends—the youth of America is genuinely concerned and deeply affected by this tragedy. I have seen the young people awakening to this horrific truth and rising to the task of dealing with it. I now genuinely believe that my generation will be ready to take the reins of the country when our time comes, and I believe we will succeed.

This tragedy has taught us a hard lesson and forced us to accept scary facts, but the teenagers of the United States have not only dealt with this, but we have discovered the patriots inside ourselves in the process. Some of my friends who could not have cared less about the state of the nation are now avidly discussing it, realizing how important the defense of our hard-won freedom is.

I cannot speak for everyone, and I cannot say that this applies to every young person in the country, but a great many of us have become true Americans because of this. We are feeling the shock, anger and sadness caused by this attack on our country, and are finally now truly proud young citizens of the United States of America.

Natalie James is a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Monte Vista Christian School in Morgan Hill, Calif.