Magazine / People

Essay: A freshman on 9/11

“Where were you when you heard?”

It’s a phrase every generation knows. Everyone has experienced a national tragedy where the Earth seemingly stood still as feelings of horror, disbelief and fear set in. Years later, people can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news.

In the 1960s, the defining event was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; in the 1980s, it was the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

In my generation, it was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

I remember where I was that fateful day 10 years ago. I was in my dorm room in Johnson-McFarlane Hall. I was 18 years old—a freshman—and it was the second day of school at DU. I was awakened early in the morning by sounds of chaos and a loud knocking on my door. My roommate and I were the only ones on our hall who had a TV, so after receiving calls from frantic parents and friends to make sure they were OK, our floormates started filing into our room to watch the coverage.

Huddled together in our pajamas a little before 7 a.m., any anxiety we felt about starting our Tuesday classes for the first time quickly became an ancient memory.

We cried at the sights we saw on the news and screamed in horror as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. We gasped as we watched the towers crumble to the ground.

Suddenly, it was time for class. We peeled ourselves away from the TV to scurry across campus to find our new classrooms.

My first class of the day was Psychology: Mind and Behavior with Professor George Potts. He set aside his planned lecture and turned the session into a real-life case study, warning us about the cognitive and emotional effects a national tragedy would have on society. I vividly remember him standing at the front of the Sturm Hall classroom, telling us young, budding scholars to avoid the temptation to stay glued to the TV coverage. Of course, nobody could resist that urge. It consumed us for days, weeks, months or longer.

I remember participating in a candlelight vigil on the south side of the Ritchie Center. Hand-in-hand with hundreds of my classmates, this was the moment when it all sank in. The world had changed forever. My naïve, idealistic teenage years were gone. Within hours, I was launched into adulthood and forced to realize the harsh realities of the world.

Thankfully, I did not have personal ties to any of the victims of the attacks, but countless others weren’t so lucky. I am but one of thousands of students, faculty and staff members who were on the DU campus that horrific day. They remember where they were, too.

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