Remembering 9/11’s Impact 20 Years Later

Vy Nguyen, Opinion Editor

It was supposed to be like any other morning for seven-year-old Sara Dragan. The sun blossomed early in Hilliard, OH, cueing the second-grader to start stumbling through her routine while trying to catch her bus — being driven to school by mom was not an option. Flashes of brushing her teeth blurred into chowing down her breakfast. Getting dressed was muddled with haphazardly packing her backpack. There was no time to lose. At last, proudly donning the clothes her mom picked the night before, Sara charged out the door to board the bus she had always worked so hard to catch.

It was going to be a normal day, she thought. However, her mother suddenly picking her up from school at 9:00 a.m. was far from normal. Riding to or from school on anything but a bus was far from normal. A second-grader’s eyes being anchored to a TV screen scarred with images of smoking Twin Towers was also far from normal. 

But then, September 11, 2001 was far from normal.

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Saturday, September 11, 2021 commemorated the 20-year anniversary of the most abrupt yet equally devastating attack in American history. It was the day four hijacked commercial airlines became bullets that shattered not only the 2,977 lives at the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon but also the normalcy Americans had been so accustomed to. 9/11 unequivocally left no life untouched, from families, first-responders and firefighters to second-grader Sara Dragan, who now, 20 years later, teaches 10th-grade chemistry at W.T. Woodson High School. 

“We immediately started doing lockdown drills,” Ms. Dragan recalled, “and when I moved to Maryland the next year, it became common practice.” The fear of future attacks invited elevated security measures into an era nearly foreign to metal detectors and body scanners. Before 9/11, families were able to board planes with minimal proof of identification or baggage screening. The abrupt element of 9/11 ultimately urged schools and workplaces to prepare for any potential unforeseen threats, regardless of their magnitude. Now, students of all ages, including Woodson students, routinely perform lock-down drills in case of a school shooting or break-in. 

“Wherever there is a threat to security, there is a reduction in liberty,” explained former lawyer and current AP United States History teacher Mr. Mike Viccora. The passing of the Patriot Act and federalization of passenger screening quickly became a tradeoff between a duty to shield Americans from harm and one’s freedom, which is similar to today’s dissent with pandemic protocols.

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Ultimately, what masks and extensive sanitation were to 2020, heightened security was to 2001: both became an unwanted new normal in abnormal times.

As some of 2020’s abnormality was firmly pinned to the Asian race, after 9/11, innocent Arab-Americans faced extreme cases of vitriol as they were being melded into one bomb-wielding, plane-hijacking terrorist group. AP United States Government and Politics teacher and former lawyer Mr. Kevin Wright details that “fear is often a great motivator [in history], but it doesn’t always lead to great decisions.” Although he cites fear as part of the “human condition,” he clarifies that it deserves to be rationalized separately from its detrimental consequences.

Facing rigid TSA guidelines and plagued with omnipresent sadness, an American’s grieving search for a culprit is understandable yet is unjustified in discrimination, according to an unwavering Mr. Viccora, who concurs with Mr. Wright’s analysis of fear.

“My biggest concern for the next generation is whether people will be more nuanced and look deeper into these situations, instead of reacting and generating biases,” he said. While acknowledging that racial stereotypes are still present today, Mr. Viccora assures that Islamophobic vehemence has been “tempered with,” reminding Americans of the strides made towards racial justice since 9/11.

Despite new advancements in security and racial equality, fear still endures and sorrow looms over those who have lost loved ones and family members. 

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“The most important part of 9/11 is the ‘never forget,’” reflected Varsity football coach and economics teacher Coach Jared Van Acker. “When my family and I visit New York City, we always visit Ground Zero so that [our kids] can understand the stories of 9/11 and keep the loss of lives in their memories.”

 

While nearly 3,000 lives were lost during 9/11, more lives were lost after 9/11 as it was a catalyst for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Coach Van Acker, who attended college on a football scholarship, remembers how some of his high school classmates could not afford college and relied on serving in the military to help alleviate costs. However, after being “thrust” into war, some of his peers returned with physical disabilities and mental illnesses while, sadly, some did not return at all.

 

Although 9/11 brought immense losses and significant changes to America, all teachers agreed that the attacks brought a newfound sense of patriotism to life, encouraging students to seek unity within one another during politically and socially divisive times. 

“The unity was [incredible], and I think that’s what we need to get back to,” said Ms. Dragan, “Everyone was there for everybody. It wasn’t ‘you versus me.’ It was ‘we are going to do this together, and together, we are going to fix this.’”