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When al Qaeda member Mohamed Atta steered American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, he initiated a catastrophe that would live on in the memories of Americans everywhere. The attacks started a 20-year war.

I dare say visitors of this site are able to recall the time and place they first heard the news. Students entering their first year of college can not.

Veronica Porges, junior at the University of Miami, helped me look through the eyes of different generations at the event that so shaped the world as we know it.

What follows are excerpts from a reflection in the student newspaper Miami Hurricane.

 She writes…

 For the first time in the 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001, most of the nearly 2,700 freshmen enrolled at the University of Miami were not alive to witness it.

She quotes long-time Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely (a graduate of St. John’s University and a former student of mine).

“With a new generation of students, this was not part of their lives, so it becomes very much history, rather than in the beginning, something that our students lived… the students that filled UM’s classrooms on the date now etched into American history are long gone, with each successive class of enrollees increasingly unfamiliar with the reality of Sept. 11… For the very first time, when we do this memorial service this year, most freshmen will not have been alive when 9/11 happened”

While the country and world continue to grapple with a deadly pandemic, students and faculty again look back to the day that changed the world.

Mark Iocco is a senior at UM from Queens, New York. His mother worked a quarter of a mile away from the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. He writes…

“I cannot even imagine the panic, fear and terror that quickly rushed through my mother’s body witnessing this, along with those of everyone else around her … Nearly 3,000 people went to bed that night without their son, daughter, husband, wife, mother or father.”

While students struggle to imagine the emotions felt by those who witnessed the tragedy, many faculty members are struggling to forget.

Alex Piquero, chair of the department of sociology and criminology, writes…

“It is like a bad movie on rewind and you cannot change the channel… many young people have learned about 9/11 in history classes or the stories of their parents, if they have learned anything at all.

“I wonder if the 9/11 era is only for those who went through it.”

Yet their generation and lives are marked by the policies developed in reaction.

Professor Piqquero continues… “While students today were not likely to have witnessed the events of 9/11 firsthand , this class has its own list of generation-defining tragedies.

“The younger generation, say college students now, have their own events that are etched in their mind, the killing of George Floyd and the attack on the US Capitol.”

For this and every new crop of UM freshman, the stories of the people lost and lives forever changed on 9/11 will have to be read in the archives of newspapers.

Questions her reflections raised for me

  • How conscious am I of the differences between those who experienced an event (e.g. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) first-hand and those for whom it is “history” (relying on the recorded memories of those who were witnesses?
  • Is that why native-americans and those who were brought to America as slaves find it important to be in touch with the history they were never taught?.

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.

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