Posted by: Liz Zentos
As I sat through my European Diplomatic History class in university, attempting to scribble down everything the professor said, I realized that students around me were anxiously whispering about something. My friend looked at his cell phone, then leaned towards me and said something about a plane hitting a building in New York. The professor quieted down the class and continued with his lecture. About 15 minutes later, the chatter amongst students began again, and this time my friend whispered something about a terrorist attack in New York City. Our professor, visibly annoyed, quieted us down again and continued to lecture for ten more minutes.
When we were finally released from class, I saw that students were wandering around the streets of downtown Washington D.C., where my university was located, visibly upset and in a daze. My friend convinced me to go to his apartment nearby to watch the news. When we turned on the television, every channel was showing images of the two planes that had crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. I had only been to New York City a couple times, but I nonetheless could not believe my eyes, and was even more stunned by the talk of terrorism.
The situation hit even closer to home when the television announcer said that the Pentagon—just a couple miles from where I was sitting—had been hit by a third plane. Images of the gigantic Pentagon building in flames with a gaping hole on one side flashed across the screen. At this point, I realized just how real and dangerous the situation was.
My friend and I continued watching the news in disbelief as the south and north towers collapse, and as a fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania—next to the hometown of a good friend of ours. Eventually, after finding out that all classes that day had been cancelled, I decided to stop back at my dorm room. But as I approached my building, I heard sirens and realized that my building and the others nearby were being evacuated. I felt a little panicky, wondering what was going on, when another student told me that the State Department—just a block away—was about to get hit by another plane. I rushed back to my friend’s room, and heard the television news reporter announce that the State Department and Congress could be targeted next. I thought about whether I was in danger if the State Department was hit, and what I would lose were my building to be destroyed. I knew material belongings were not the most important part of my life, but nonetheless all of my family photos and other sentimental belongings flashed through my mind.
Eventually, talk of additional attacks died down, and I was able to return to my dorm room. I also was finally able to reach my parents, after hours of all phone lines being busy.
The next day, I went back to class and my life seemingly returned to normal. But even though my dorm room was fine and, thank goodness, no one I knew had been killed or injured in the attack, life in the United States—and my life—would never be quite the same. I would always remember the feeling of wondering whether the next attack would take place a few streets away from me, perhaps hitting my dorm room, or even the room I was in. And I would always remember the panic and fear amongst my classmates that day. I would also never forget the way that we as Americans pulled together that day, and in the coming weeks, months, and even years.
Now, eleven years later, I still feel the effects of the events of September 11, 2001. As a U.S. diplomat, I work to implement policies that are, at the root of them, often focused on protecting citizens in the United States and around the world. This is why we work so hard to coordinate with our friends and allies around the world to ensure that, for example, nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands, that countries are peaceful and stable, and that people are able to choose their leaders through democratic processes. So each year on September 11, I not only think about the terrible tragedy that took place in 2001, but I also re-commit to playing my small role in attempting to make the world safer and more peaceful.