For those who are old enough, conversations about September 1, 2001 usually start by recalling what one was doing when the news broke. No matter how routine or mundane the task – such as sitting in class during an otherwise forgettable lecture – everyone who saw real-time images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center (WTC) remembers exactly what they were doing then and there. Now that we’ve reached the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the WTC, a new generation of Americans are speaking up about their experience living in a post 9/11 world – Generation Z, defined by those born after 1996. Even though they can’t recall where they were when the second tower was hit or reminisce about the innocence of pre-911 days, Generation Z does have thoughts about the America they inherited.
Sept. 11 was a formative memory for many millennials and life-changing for older generations, like Gen X, our parents among them. According to the 2019 US Census Bureau, 31.7% of the US population is between ages 0 to 24, which makes up Generation Z. A defining trait of Gen Z is that most of them were too young to recall or even live through the events of 9/11. Many research institutions identify 1996 as the cutoff point between generations specifically because those born afterward have little to no memory of the attacks. To Gen Z Masuk students, 9/11 is history – they have no collective memory of what happened that day 20 years ago.
Over the past few days I’ve spoken with many students about how they’ve come to understand that day. In the process of asking fellow students and interviewing teachers on their stories, I’ve come to reflect on how 9/11 has come to shape the lives of Gen Z Masuk students’ and Millennial staff.
Haley Ferris, a 15 year old Masuk sophomore can’t recall the exact time she first heard about those tragic events. It all happened before she was born. But she does remember when she first grasped the magnitude of it. It had to do with the mini hassles of boarding a plane. Someone remarked about how the security checks and restrictions were a result of the attacks.
“I was like, ‘Oh, well, that must have been something really big if it changed the way that all of us are able to go through the airport or get on trains and buses,” she remembers.
Susan Clark, a history teacher at Masuk recalled how she was a freshman in college at the time but her brother was a sophomore at Masuk, and that Masuk had canceled back to school night that evening and didn’t tell students what had happened while they were at school.
“I see the world differently than I did before,” she says. “I was 19 when it happened. As the years go on and we’re 20 years out and there isn’t a student that I teach that was alive at that time, it gets hard to kind of convey what we were feeling. So it’s a very solemn moment. Every generation has one of those ‘where were you then’ moments, for my parents it was when President Kennedy was assassinated, for me, it’s September 11.”
Regardless of whether you have a collective memory of that day, it’s a tough day to remember in US history. It’s also an important moment for Gen Z Masuk students and Millennial teachers to reflect on what’s changed in our country and to never forget.