The Winsor School
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Ask Someone About 9/11: A Message for the Next Generation
Sarah Pelmas, Head of School

[NOTE:  Earlier this month, I had the chance to speak with the school in assembly. The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks had just passed, and I was thinking about the challenge of educating the next generation when they have no lived experience of one of the most significant days in recent American history. As you will learn, I prompted the students to ask their families and other loved ones where they were that day. And I told them a little bit about where I was.]

It was a Tuesday, and I was living in San Francisco. It was about 6 a.m.; I was already awake when my sister called me and said, “Turn on the TV.” In those days, we had cell phones but they were basic, so she called on my land line, and mine had a cord. I had to put the phone down to turn on the TV. Every channel was showing one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center with smoke billowing out of it. As I watched, a plane banked toward the other tower, crashed into it, and exploded. It turns out that every news organization, in filming the explosion from the North Tower, captured the moment when the second plane crashed into the South Tower.

There are moments that are so stunning that you remember tiny details vividly. I remember the vase on the bookshelf above my TV and the pattern in my carpet. I remember that the dog was licking my hand, trying to get me to take him out for a walk. I don’t remember why I was already awake, but I remember that I thought we were at war.

Here’s what had happened: that morning, four planes carrying passengers and flights crews, two from Logan Airport, one from Dulles in DC and one from Newark, were hijacked by members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda and flown into the North Tower and South Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania (though it was thought that they had been headed to the Capitol building or the White House before the resistance of those on the flight made them crash the plane). All this happened between 8:45 and 10:00 a.m., East Coast time. Three thousand people died that day.

In New York, many things closed, and for many days after that. The government in DC went on a lockdown for several days. Airports all around the country were closed immediately, and there was an eerie quiet throughout the subsequent week because there was nothing flying in the sky.

Immediately after, the Department of Homeland Security was formed, which included the TSA, and security procedures at airports changed to what we experience now. I say all this because almost all of you students had not yet been born when this happened. A few of you were babies. None of you have known a time before this day.

September 11 this year marked the 17th anniversary and, unlike many places, we did not observe a moment of silence or read aloud names or have a commemoration. I suspect some people here wish we had. But I guess I would prefer to ask you a favor: when you go home tonight, or maybe this weekend, or when you have the chance, ask a family member or someone else you love where they were on 9/11 and listen to their story. There are many turning points for people in their lives, moments where they realize that something has changed forever. For many adults, this day was one of those moments.

If anything comes out of tragedy, it is often that we resolve not to let the darkness win. We resolve to live lives of purpose, joy, and meaning. We resolve to live in the present, to tell the people we love that we love them, to honor and celebrate the happy moments, and to make things just a little bit better for those around us.

And so I would ask that of you today as well. Ask someone about 9/11. Honor those we have lost and those who fight daily to keep us safe and secure.

And also: hug someone who needs it. Tell your loved ones that you love them. Catch yourself enjoying the day.

It is a huge and scary task to raise young people in this day and age. September 11 reminds us annually of the fragility and riskiness of life. I hope it can also inspire us to love fearlessly, to celebrate one another, and to live with purpose. It is so easy to be inspired every day at Winsor. I wish the same for you in your lives.