I remember first hearing about the events of 9/11 during second-period chemistry class my sophomore year of high school. We didn’t know much at the time, and in my little town in Wisconsin, few of us really had any connection to New York. By third-period, teachers turned on TVs. Some of my peers went home at the requests of their parents, and some of my teachers, later in the day, turned off TVs. In retrospect, I’m thinking they probably didn’t want to scare us as more reports of terrorism came out.
I did not have a direct connection to anyone in New York at the time. In fact, since 2001, I had never met anyone who knew someone until two years ago. For my job in fundraising, I travel frequently, meeting alumni and parents of current students. A little over two years ago, I met with a beautiful, happy woman in a suburb of Newark, New Jersey. Part of what I love about my job is that oftentimes, people open up to me about personal stories when the only hardly know me. As this woman talked to me about her daughter’s experiences in school so far, she began to share with me that her husband had worked in the towers, and he was there they day that they went down. With an incredible strength in her voice, she told me about the pain of that day, and the journey that her and her children have been on since. She told me that every year, on that day, they come together as a family. Their daughter flew home from college her freshman year to be together on the tenth anniversary of that tragic day.
It changed things for me. To hear someone’s story, one on one. It put a face to something that I could only relate to on a surface level, like many other Americans. Now, on this day, as I sit in a hotel in Atlanta, not only do I feel gratitude for my family, my safety, my country, but I feel even more respect for the people who left this world that day, and for the loved ones they left behind. My heart goes out to all of you, any of you, who were directly affected by everything that day. I know that none of us will ever forget.