BCHS, WVHS kids share perspectives

9/11 IN EYES OF TEENS

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Staff Writer
Posted 9/11/17

Memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are seared into the minds of many adults. However, today’s kids and teens are growing up learning about that day in history class.

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BCHS, WVHS kids share perspectives

9/11 IN EYES OF TEENS

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Memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are seared into the minds of many adults. However, today’s kids and teens are growing up learning about that day in history class.

With 16 years having passed since 9/11, the students in high school today were either very young or not yet even born. The latter applies to most current freshmen and sophomores, who are typically 14 or 15 years old.

While many students do recognize 9/11 remembrances as solemn events, they do not have their own memories. They are relying on adults to help them learn about how that day changed the United States.

The Cleveland Daily Banner recently spoke with several local Bradley County students to find out what it is like to be growing up in this in-between time, the time when memory starts to become history.

“It is kind of weird,” said Ryleigh Green, a freshman at Walker Valley High School. “We know about it, but we can’t even remember our parents reacting to it. It really is history to us.” 

Green, 14, said she and her teachers and classmates have already discussed how the graduating class of 2021 is relying solely on historic accounts to try to understand 9/11 and its significance.

She said she has been able to gain an appreciation for what the victims went through, as she has been able to visit the 9/11 memorials in New York and Washington, D.C. Still, she noted most students have not had that chance.

Green said she sees students in her generation having a healthy amount of respect for the tragedies that took place, but is concerned this may not be the case years from now.

“I hope kids will be willing to listen. I do want to keep learning about it and keep it alive in people’s memories,” Green said. “We can never know what it felt like if we weren’t alive then, but we can still listen and try to understand.” 

Jeremiah Burkey, a junior at WVHS, was about 2 weeks old on 9/11. Though he was too young at the time to recall adults’ in-the-moment reactions to the attacks, he realizes the events helped make the U.S. the way it is today.

“It heightened Americans’ awareness of what can be done to us,” Burkey said. “It has made us much more cautious.”

“It feels like, since 9/11, we just can’t trust people as much,” he added. “At the same time, 9/11 has really brought us together, united as a nation.”

Though he acknowledged there have been many disagreements among Americans in recent years, he still feels this is the case. What he has observed is that many will set their disagreements aside if presented with more important issues or events.

“We’ve seen this happen with Hurricane Harvey recently, and will likely see this with Hurricane Irma,” Burkey said of the latest storm, which was reclassified as a tropical storm this morning. “They have been rescuing and helping people without caring about race, religion or anything else.”

Burkey has learned about the events of 9/11 mostly from family and has had the opportunity to hear from people personally affected by them.

While some might think teens today are too young to care about 9/11, he said his generation does still see a need for solemn remembrance. Though nothing on the scale of 9/11 has been observed since, Burkey noted teens today have felt the fear of terrorist attacks like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

He added that there is so much information vying for students’ attention today, the lessons of 9/11 are sometimes overwhelmed by other information.

“A lot of students maybe aren’t as informed about it as they should be, but they do care,” Burkey said. “It’s not joked about like so many things are in school; it is still deeply felt.”

Hayden Word, a senior at WVHS, was about a year old when 9/11 happened, as were most current high school seniors. Though 16 years have passed, he said 9/11 is “almost still an untouchable subject.” 

Bringing up 9/11 can still elicit sadness from adults who have lived through it, he’s observed. That, he said, can make some students hesitant to bring it up.

“They still play ‘Taps’ in the hallway at school,” Word said. “To our teachers, and to our parents and other older relatives, it’s still sort of fresh.” 

He added that he has learned just as much from adults talking about what they were doing on that day as he has in his history classes.

Word also described how, on a family trip to England, his mother shared with him how airport security and customs used to be more lax.

Family discussions have also included talk of the sacrifices first responders made while responding to the terrorist attacks. This subject still “hits home” today because his older brother, Preston, is now a fireman.

Word said he appreciates how the people of this country tend to live out the “United We Stand” motto in times of tragedy. Still, he does wonder what it was like to grow up in a time when people mostly heard about terrorist attacks overseas.

“It didn’t affect us students directly, but it shaped our world,” Word said. “It’s changed the way we live, whether we really realize it or not.” 

Kathryn West, a senior at Bradley Central High School, said she has realized this for a long time, in part because of the careers many in her family have had.

She comes from a family of U.S. military veterans, and she is making plans to enlist after high school. At home and in her JROTC classes at BCHS, there have been many mentions of 9/11 and its effects.

West said she knows some students are misinformed about what happened that day; they may not always remember what they learned in history class. Still, she said it bothers her when adults assume young people do not care.

“Most of us do,” West said. “After all, it’s one of the biggest events the world has seen in recent history.”

Emily Harris, also a senior at BCHS, pointed out that she and her fellow seniors were all likely less than 2 years old when 9/11 happened. Still, her experience has been that adults are keen on making sure they know what happened.

She noted the after-effects of 9/11 seem to have been boiled down to two things — increased security and an increased sense of national unity. Those things have frequently been emphasized when painting the before-and-after pictures in the minds of students today.

“We probably don’t trust each other as much as people did in previous generations. This even comes down to thinks like how we have to be careful about what we share online,” Harris said. “Still, we do try to stay united and help each other in tragedies.” 

Abby Crawley, a BCHS senior, said her experience has been similar. Students today may not personally be able to relate to tragedies, but they are learning about how the world they live in today is different because of 9/11.

 “I see it is a day of great tragedy — and one that needs to be remembered,” said Jarron Parker, another BCHS senior. “I would say, from what I’ve seen, students do care about it. We just need to keep having chances to learn it.” 

WVHS senior Brandon Akiona said he has learned from talking to his family why 9/11 was so devastating. It shook many people’s sense of security.

His mother, Sandy, had often taken flights out of Newark, N.J., to visit family prior to 9/11. He said his mother was “really shaken up” to learn that one of the hijacked flights that day had taken off from there.

For many people, 9/11 provided a rude awakening; their worlds were not as safe as they had thought they were. Investigators would later learn that terrorists who hated what the U.S. stood for had planned the attacks in an attempt to bring the U.S. to its knees.

“It just blows my mind that such hatred could exist in this world,” said Akiona. “I really feel that, if I lived through something like that, it would shake what I believe.” 

Though things like hatred and terrorism are not pleasant to talk about, he noted it is important to keep talking about history’s hateful events.

Akiona stressed students today are witnessing hatred and terrorism in today’s headlines, and there are connections that can be made. He mentioned the recent event in Charlottesville, Va., where a woman was killed in a clash between a white supremacist group and a counter-protest group.

“My generation was taught growing up that racism and other forms of hatred were pretty much history,” Akiona said. “It struck fear into my heart to ... realize that this hatred still exists today.” 

There are many lessons that can be learned from 9/11, and he said he has observed many in action. These include the increased security measures visible in airports today.

He added that there is still a need to remember the victims of 9/11 and continue to provide comfort to its victims — including the families and friends of the deceased. Just as 9/11 serves as a reminder of hate, it can serve as a reminder of the ways we can rally together.

“There are uninformed people in every generation, so not everyone knows of 9/11 or remembers it well,” Akiona said. “But that does not have to be the case. We can all learn and try to remember.” 

christy.armstrong@

clevelandbanner.com

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