Looking back: September 12 and the students in the field

(Photo courtesy of John Consoli)

The picture above was taken on McKeldin Mall on Sept. 12, 2001. Students at our university were confused, hurt. Some lost family, some lost friends. All lost something.

They were told to come to the mall. More than 10,000 arrived, 10 years ago today, a collection of young people miles away from their families, some in their first weeks away from home. The world they had known was now ashes on Broadway. September 12 was a lonely day.

Some of those students added entries into the New York Times interactive project, “Where Were You on September 11, 2001.”

A man named Don wrote, “I was a Freshman at UMD.  My best friend’s father worked near the WTC and we stood silently waiting for a call from him all morning.”

Laura said, “I was in the gym on campus. On the TV above my elliptical, I saw the plane crash. I didn’t know what was happening. I kept running.”

Tatiana said, “I was leaving class and cars were stopped in the middle of the road with their doors open and the radio on full blast listening to the news.”

Dan said, “I was in class — I walked out of the building into a different world.”

The students in that field are in their 30s now, with husbands and wives and children. The students in that field grew up.

But moving on doesn’t change what’s behind you, as the students who cross McKeldin Mall today know. We saw it from a different perspective. As opinion editor Alissa Gulin writes in today’s Diamondback, “We were all in the same awkward situation that day — old enough to understand the basics of what happened, but too young to truly comprehend all the direct and indirect implications it would have on our lives.”

We didn’t know until later that thousands more would die fighting to prevent it from happening again. We didn’t know until later about the U.S. fighter pilots flying on September 11, without ammunition, to kill themselves ramming United Flight 93 out of the sky. We didn’t know until later that the passengers of that airliner made sure that wasn’t necessary.

All we knew was that something was very different. September 11 was the first time we saw our parents cry. We were 10 years old, and Osama bin Laden was the only boogie man we knew.

Now, we’re in the shoes of those students on the mall. And, having grown, we insist on remembering, partly out of respect for the lost, but also partly because we have no choice. We remember those who never got to their 9:30 meeting that morning, and those whose planes never landed. We remember those who died wearing flak jackets alone in the desert, and we remember those who remain,  who fight on at home and abroad, whether their weapon is an M4 rifle or simply their refusal to submit to fear. Those like the teacher that Lara writes about on the Times interactive site:

“Our teacher knew right away it was terrorism and insisted on finishing the hour, saying ‘They want us to stop. That’s why we will continue.'”

And, a decade later, we still do.

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