It’s another beautiful September morning, but today’s clear, blue sky makes memories of September 11, 2001 even more vivid. On that day, I was the newly-promoted principal at Floral Street School, and I recall being in the office area when one of our secretaries hung up the phone and relayed the message that “the World Trade Center is on fire.” I checked the daily schedule and found an empty third grade classroom where the students had gone to a special class, and I asked the teacher to turn on the TV that was mounted in the corner. The image that slowly emerged on the screen, of smoke billowing from the North Tower into a cloudless sky just like today’s, will never leave me, nor anyone who witnessed it. A few minutes later the second plane hit, the newscaster used the words “terrorist attack,” and I quickly left the room to find the assistant principal to begin figuring out how to inform our staff. Over the next hours, the remaining tragic events of that day occurred, a day that changed the course of history and deeply affected our nation and the world, and that for many thousands was also a personal tragedy due to the loss of loved ones and friends.
To those of us who experienced that day, 9/11 doesn’t feel like “history.” However, the young students who attended Floral Street School that day are now in their twenties, and the vast majority of our current students were not even born. For them, it is history, and so it is important that our schools continue to ensure that our community’s young people learn about that awful day, including both the evil that caused it and the courage and heroism that so many displayed – from first responders in New York and Washington D.C., to ordinary citizens, like those on United Flight 93, who acted in extraordinary ways to save others’ lives. Like with all important historical events, there are and will be various interpretations and critiques of what led to and followed 9/11. Regardless, I do hope that educators and parents help our next generation understand how Americans, regardless of national origin or religion, came together in mourning and resolve in response to the evil that was done that day, and thereby give meaning to the exhortation “never forget.”