I will never forget the moment 22 years ago when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. It was early in the morning in the Pacific Time Zone when I received a call from my wife asking if I was watching the news. The shock in the voices of the news reporters and the disturbing images of black smoke billowing from the towers and ash-covered streets are still fresh in my memory.
On that day, I had a presbytery meeting to attend, so I drove there and we turned on the news to keep track of the unfolding events. As the gravity of the situation sank in, we decided to end the meeting early and return home to offer support to our communities. At that time, I was a pastor in Thousand Oaks, California, and I vividly remember driving back through Los Angeles. The usually congested freeway was completely empty, giving the whole scene an eerie feel. It was then that I fully understood that this day would be one of great significance.
The impact of September 11, 2001, will forever be remembered by America. The coordinated terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people and targeted symbols of our nation’s economic prosperity and military strength. These devastating events sparked the War on Terror, forcing us to confront the harsh reality that our freedom was under threat.
As the president of a university, I am aware that most college-aged students were not even born at the time of 9/11. For them, it is as distant an event as World War I is to many of us. However, they still live with the aftermath, particularly in terms of airport security and transportation. While we take the time to commemorate and reflect on what happened, it is crucial to teach college students the lessons of 9/11 and help them understand its significance.
When the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked, brave firefighters, law enforcement officers, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and civilians sprang into action. Their heroic efforts led to the evacuation of approximately 13,000-15,000 people and the rescue of 20 individuals from the rubble. The passengers of Flight 93 also displayed incredible bravery as they fought to prevent another attack. This courage extends beyond those who directly protected our homeland that day; it also encompasses those who joined the Armed Forces and fought in the War on Terror. These brave men and women serve as a reminder of the courage that has shaped our history, something we need to cultivate even more today.
The Founding Fathers of our nation risked their lives by signing the Declaration of Independence and committing treason for the sake of liberty. They understood that the pursuit of freedom outweighed any personal costs. A thriving democracy necessitates the presence of individuals who are willing to stand up for what is right, to face adversity, fear, and risk, and to challenge the status quo.
We have the ability to instill this sense of courage in college students today by sharing stories of the heroic individuals from 9/11 who prioritized humanity and American ideals over their own safety. We can encourage students to reach out to firefighters, local law enforcement, and members of the Armed Forces, thanking them for their service and learning more about how they safeguard our nation.
In the gloomy aftermath of 9/11, Americans came together. Thousands of people volunteered to offer their support to those in need: the injured, the grieving, and the displaced. Acts of unity and compassion were carried out across the country. This spirit of unity should not be forgotten. As we remember the lives lost and the heroes who emerged on that fateful day, let us strive to ignite that same sense of resilience, courage, and compassion in our college students and within ourselves.