Eighteen years ago, America faced a devastating attack as the Twin Towers in New York City collapsed, impacting everyone – including those not yet born.
This year’s crop of college freshmen will be the first generation of college students born after the September 11 attacks. But for the class of 2023, 9/11 is not an event that’ll get lost in between the pages of a textbook.
“My mom was on the bus almost at the Lincoln Tunnel when the bus had to turn around,” said Adrianna Siwek, a freshman at John Jay. She and fellow John Jay student Kimberly Paredes say they were still “in the womb” when the Twin Towers fell; they’re 17 now.
Siwek and Paredes were two of many paying their respects at John Jay’s Jay Walk on Monday, Sept. 9. Every year since the attack in 2001, students, alumni, and staff at John Jay College plant flags in the grass to commemorate the events of that day, and to make sure that lost loved ones are not forgotten.
According to Dick Pusateri, John Jay’s Military and Veteran Services Manager, 67 white John Jay flags are planted in the shape of a diamond in the center of the field, surrounded by the flags of different countries, with a United States flag located in the middle of the diamond. The 67 flags represent the 67 individuals that attended or were faculty at John Jay who died during 9/11.
“It is a symbol of who John Jay is,” said Pusateri. “We are a protector’s kind of school.”
Athletic teams such as the cross country team planted flags as they do every year. Some students have no recollection of the attack. However, they were able to recall the stories their family members had told them in regards to the tragic and terrifying event.
Brandon Dial, a member of the cross country team at John Jay, acknowledged how important it is that they have a “cool way to remember the victims” every year.
Danny Mendoza, a John Jay student, was in the fourth grade at the time. He remembers the principal speaking through the intercom of the loudspeaker and informing teachers to turn on the television. Mendoza and his classmates had no choice but to take in the traumatizing and cataclysmic sights.
On the other side of the East River, Brooklyn College students have their own memories of the event.
Jarin Uddin, a senior at Brooklyn College, was three years old at the time, but had an experience similar to Mendoza’s. Her memory remains fuzzy about the day, but like many students in New York, Uddin was picked up from school early.
“All the lights went out in our apartment building and my mom was like, ‘I know I paid the light bill,’” said Brooklyn College student Tatiana Houston. She was about four at the time, but she can still recall the moment when her family had no idea what was occuring in the city. They began lighting candles in their Fort Greene apartment. The attack had caused disruptions not only in the city, but in Brooklyn as well.
“It was a very tragic event that a lot of people couldn’t see coming,” said Laura Kaminskiy, a Brooklyn College freshman. Kaminskiy was born in December of 2001; like Siwek and Paredes, Kaminskiy was in the womb when the towers fell. On that morning, her pregnant mother was working within close proximity to the Twin Towers, and her uncle was in the building. It goes without saying that this shook her uncle, who fortunately made it out of the building alive.
“I’ve learned to appreciate life more and not take things for granted, because things happen unexpectedly,” Kaminskiy said.
September 11, 2001 remains an important day that must never be forgotten. Traditions such as the annual flag planting at John Jay College matter. My father was one of many that responded to the call. He went in and out of the building to save lives, but he also continues to remember the unforgettable sights and sounds of people screaming for their lives. I was far too young to remember this day. I was an almost 20-month-old baby, unaware that my father was running towards the danger as people were running away from it. My father said “[he] couldn’t see his own hands between the dust and debris,” and as scary as it was going into the building, he is happy that he was able to save lives.
Children born after 9/11 may not have been born at the time of the event, and some students may not have been old enough to remember what they were doing, but they can pass along stories about people they knew. It is vital that those stories continue to be told, and that the memories of those lost are kept alive.