On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in 10th grade chemistry trying my best to listen to our teacher over the din of my classmates holding conversations around me. Our teacher, Mrs. Doe*, while exceedingly bright and very well versed in the subject, was probably too nice to be a high school teacher. As a class we realized this quite early in the school year and, as many high schoolers might, ran roughshod over her.
It might sound like I’m throwing my classmates under the bus and making myself out to be somehow superior but, the truth is, by luck of the draw and Mrs. Doe’s alphabetized seating chart I was in the very front and middle of the classroom. I had nowhere to hide from our teacher who frequently lectured just inches away from me.
So, as I was saying, my classmates were being exceedingly loud. No one but myself and a few other students near the front seemed to be paying attention. Then the teacher from the next classroom, who absolutely commanded respect from every student in our school, burst into our classroom and whispered something into Mrs. Doe’s ear.
She gasped and went white as a sheet. I thought we’d had it. I thought we’d finally pushed her too far and we were about to get properly dressed down for our shenanigans.
Instead, without uttering a word, Mrs. Doe went to the classroom TV and turned it on. She covered her mouth in shock as we witnessed one of the World Trade Center towers gushing smoke.
Naturally, the class went silent for a moment before conversation resumed with speculation about potential causes for the “accident.” The news announcers, while shocked at the scenes unfolding before us, also seemed to be thinking in a similar vein. If anyone was thinking “terrorist attack,” no one said it out loud. Then we saw another plane hit the second tower and it became clear this probably wasn’t accidental.
Much of the rest of the day is a blur in my memory. I remember more about the conversations and the news that nearly every teacher played in lieu of their previously scheduled lesson plan than anything of substance we talked about in school that day. In the very next period, my Algebra 2 teacher remained characteristically on task and taught his planned lesson. While he never explicitly confirmed this, I didn’t get the feeling he wanted to pretend that nothing had happened but rather that the best thing we could do in that moment was to continue moving forward.
After lunch, in history, our beloved history teacher talked to us about what this meant for us as a country. He provided historical context. I can’t recall everything he said but I do remember this as if I’d just heard it yesterday:
I’ll never forget where I was when President Kennedy was shot. I’ve never met anyone alive when President Kennedy was shot that cannot tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing. This moment will be like that for you.Mr. P*
He was absolutely right. Never forget.
* Note: names changed or shortened to protect the innocent.