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While our students today were raised in a post 9/11 world, they still must grapple with what that horrific day means to our nation and community today. This year, on 9/11, students gathered in the gym for a photo slideshow, videos and reflections on a day that most of them could barely remember. Senior Rebecca Shiner, who was four at the time of the attacks, spoke about what she remembers and how it has impacted her life since then.

My grandmother picked my brother and me up from school…[and] on our way home, my grandmother told me that something really terrible had happened in New York earlier that morning: Planes had crashes into the World Trade Centers. That was all we knew. The extent of the terrorists’ plot was not yet known. America was confused. And under attack. But I could not grasp it. I was 4 years old.

I spent the day with my grandmother. She and my grandfather had just flown home from New York the day before. They had been there for my uncle’s engagement party. All afternoon, she listened attentively to both the TV and radio news reports. As more and more details of the attacks were uncovered, my grandmother called both my father and my grandfather and urged them to come home from work. Maybe downtown Chicago was next. By one o’clock, they had each left their offices.

That afternoon, I distinctly remember speaking with my aunt on the phone. She was working in New York. From her office, she told me, she could see the smoke from the World Trade Centers. I knew that this was obviously bad, but I could not comprehend just how bad that attack was.

The following year, when I was in kindergarten, the 9/11 attacks were still in recent memory. That January, 2 boys in my kindergarten class discovered that they both had matching Twin Towers key chains. They were glazed glass key chains with the image of one of the Towers inscribed in it. That January, those boys also learned how to make paper airplanes. Like everyone in my class, the boys with the key chains knew what had happened a year and four months earlier. So, one day, during free play, those boys—5 year olds who still could not grasp the magnitude of 9/11 attacks–made paper airplanes and innocently flew them into their miniature World Trade Centers, knocking them down, reenacting 9/11.

Although I did not fully grasp the meaning of the 9/11 attacks as they were happening, I did have a sense that it was something sad and horrific. I saw that the adults around me were genuinely moved. In the weeks following the attacks, amid recovery from the shock and damage, I remember my mother sticking an American flag that we received with our newspaper to our front door. The date September 11, 2001 was printed underneath. Even to my child’s mind, I sense the deep emotions that 9/11 had evoked—the fear, the worry—yet I also sensed the national unity that 9/11 had inspired. These feelings soon became my own as I realized, over the next few years, the significance and full magnitude of the attacks. The flag is still on our front door.

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