Two years ago this morning, Jennifer Paton’s ’07 father gave her a driving lesson on the way to school. She had not yet applied to Yale.
Two years ago this morning, Anthony Powell ’05 shopped Donald Kagan’s ancient Greek history course. He was a freshman.
Two years ago this morning, history professor Paul Kennedy took his dogs for their morning walk. He had already planned that day’s Grand Strategy lecture — his first of the new semester.
Two years ago today, a routine Yale morning became indelible as students awoke to news accounts and messages many will never forget.
Today, Yale seems to have returned to normal. For some students, that is their reality, but for others, the emotions of Sept. 11, 2001, are still raw.
As students attempt to move on as best they know how, many continue to grapple with where Sept. 11 fits into their daily lives, said University Chaplain Frederick Streets.
“I think we’re all still struggling to integrate it,” Streets said. “For better or for worse, we have been thrust into thinking of ourselves not as the center of the world, but as a part of the world and that is a significant shift in identity.”
‘It was all just very far away’
Today Paton has a driver’s license. She has just finished her first week in Directed Studies.
Now, just half of Yale’s undergraduates were on campus when they experienced the events of Sept. 11, 2001. While the memories of juniors and seniors are distinctly Yale, freshmen and sophomores approach the anniversary from many different angles.
Kelly Conron’s ’07 Sept. 11 memory is clear. She was in pre-calculus class in her northwestern Connecticut high school when she first heard rumors of the attack. Conron stayed in school for the rest of the day, unsure if the rumors were true.
“When I got home I was still really confused and I walked in and my mom was sitting in front of the TV crying,” she said.
As a high school junior, Yale was hardly on her radar screen.
Two years later, Conron is settling into her new home in Vanderbilt Hall. A few of her new friends are from New York, but they have not talked about Sept. 11 yet.
“I probably will have met more people here who have been affected by it,” she said. “It hasn’t really come up, but I think [today] it will.”
Conron plans to share Sept. 11 experiences with her friends today and attend tonight’s memorial service.
“It’s remembering, it’s not forgetting, but it’s not over-exploiting it,” she said. “I think a lot of people have come to terms with it. I think people have found somewhat of an inner peace with it.”
Three thousand miles away from New York in Seattle, Michelle Weitz ’06 remembers it all being very vague.
“I was sleeping in kind of late and my dad woke me up to tell me,” she said.
Weitz’s immediate concern was that her relatives who were staying with her would have trouble crossing the border to return home to Canada.
“It was all just very far away,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I should make it out as something very serious or something portrayed as being serious — people like us aren’t used to tragedies like that.”
Weitz does not know anybody who was hurt in the attacks. She did not even know anybody who knew somebody who was hurt in the attacks — until she came to Yale last year.
Being at Yale during the one-year anniversary made the attacks more tangible, she said.
“It was very different being here especially since people in this area know people who had died at the World Trade Center,” Weitz said.
A world away in New Dehli, Akash Shah ’06 remembers sitting down for dinner two years ago. After turning on CNN, Shah heard the news. He was shocked.
“For me it’s always been a horrible day — a tragic day,” he said.
Shah said Sept. 11 gave him a new determination to return to the United States, his home, after having lived in India for four years.
“For me it resolved me to go back to the United States because I thought I wanted to serve the United States and the only way I could do that was by going back home,” Shah said.
And so Shah came to Yale. He will begin today with a personal prayer in his Saybrook College suite.
“I don’t think Sept. 11 can ever be a normal day for me,” Shah said.
Today Powell, who two years ago was a freshman shopping Greek history, is finalizing his class schedule — again. He will shop another signature Yale course: Vincent Scully’s “Modern Architecture.”
This morning, the daily routine will take on an eerie significance for upperclassmen.
Daniel Grimm ’05 remembers walking from Linsly-Chittenden Hall back to his Silliman College suite two years ago after shopping a Tuesday morning American literature course. Passing through Old Campus, Grimm overheard students talking about the World Trade Center. When he asked them to repeat themselves, he heard the news.
For Grimm, Old Campus will forever be tied to Sept. 11.
This morning, Grimm will walk out of his suite and observe a moment of silence in the Silliman courtyard just after 9:00 a.m. He will then head to class at William L. Harkness Hall.
Being at Yale two years ago made his Sept. 11 more immediate.
“I think there is a difference because Yale is such a tight-knit community,” said Grimm, who is one of three students organizing tonight’s memorial.
Like Grimm, Alora Thomas ’05 was just settling in. Being from Los Angeles, Thomas was at a new school in a new state along a new coast.
“I think it’s a little bit different for me, the fact that I’m not from New York,” Thomas said. “The first things that come to mind automatically are the images.”
Two years ago, Thomas rolled out of bed and ran to an introductory philosophy class. When she saw her friends in the large lecture hall, she heard the news.
“I was in shock and disbelief,” Thomas said. “The professor read a speech from [Abraham] Lincoln and it was pretty poignant because he talked about how the survivors must go on and live for those who passed away.”
Looking for answers
Today Kennedy will walk his dogs down Humphrey Street, past the Peabody Museum. His semester of Grand Strategy has begun again.
At 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Kennedy and history professor John Gaddis began administering a Ph.D. oral exam. Already aware of the happenings in New York, they decided not to tell their student as not to distract her. But she already knew. For her, the bigger event of the day was her exam, so she remained calm, Kennedy said.
“We continued with the exam as if life was normal,” Kennedy said. “When we got out at 11:30, the world had changed.”
For Kennedy, a period of shock had just begun. Before he knew it, students were knocking on his office door.
On Sept. 11, 2001, a day when Yalies were overcome with emotion and confusion, students turned to professors for answers.
“As the enormity of what happened became clear and the fact that we were going into a totally different relationship with the Arab world and the fact that we were probably going to have to change our foreign policy and defense posture, it caused [Yale College Dean Richard] Brodhead and [Yale President Richard] Levin to organize things,” Kennedy said.
Over the course of the next year, Yale sponsored lectures, faculty panel discussions and town hall meetings — far more than most campuses, including Harvard and Princeton, Kennedy said.
But this year has been different.
“We’re low-key this year,” Kennedy said. “The question will be whether we are low-key because of certain unsettling facts.”
The war with Iraq has led to increased uneasiness and discomfort among Americans about the role of the United States in the world compared to a year ago, he said.
But Gaddis said the more low-key second anniversary can be attributed to a natural trend — second anniversaries rarely match first anniversaries in intensity.
Charles Hill, Yale’s diplomat-in-residence, said he is “not one for anniversary marking.” He said it leads people to dwell in the past.
“People will wake up, have a few thoughts about [Sept. 11] that will be sobering and then they’ll go about their business,” Hill said.
The intensity of Sept. 11 has had a lasting effect on the student body both at Yale and at other campuses, leading to an increased interest in the study of the Middle East, its languages and global affairs, professors and administrators said.
Levin said he has seen an increased interest in international affairs. So has Hill, who has seen a spike in student interest in government and military jobs.
“The attitude about Yale College people right after Sept. 11 was very solid, very patriotic and very mature,” Hill said.
Dimitri Gutas, chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, said he has seen student interest in studying Arabic more than double in the last two years. A combination of Sept. 11, the war in Iraq, and a weak job market has enticed students to study Arabic, he said.
“Now we get the intellectual aspect of it that people realize that this is an important part of the world,” Gutas said. “America will be involved in the Arabic and Islamic world well into the next generation so clearly young people see this as very important.”
The University is walking a careful line in navigating the spiritual and emotional lives of students as it chooses how to approach the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Brodhead said.
Last September, thousands of students joined Levin on Cross Campus for a candlelight vigil after a day filled with faculty panel discussions. Amid a sea of quiet, students shielded their candles from the wind.
Today, flyers advertising faculty panel discussions are nowhere to be found. Tonight, Yale will sponsor a memorial service on Beinecke Plaza — the only major Sept. 11 related University-sponsored event.
For some, one memorial is enough. For others, more than a reading of names feels necessary.
A return to normalcy — someday
This evening, students will gather for a memorial service, where the names of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will be read. Tomorrow, Yalies will go to classes, play intramurals and return to their suites to plan the night’s festivities. While many students have returned to a level of normalcy, some are still struggling.
“It’s an event that no one will ever forget,” Brodhead said. “I’ll never forget that whole, long day. I’ll never forget running into the students who didn’t know if their parents were in the buildings.”
September at Yale is the start of school and the bustle of shopping period.
It is also a reminder of the 11 Yalies who lost their lives two years ago at Ground Zero. David Berray ’84. David Berry ’80. Bennett Fisher ’66. Elizabeth M. Gregg GRD ’77. Bradley Hoorn ’01. Richard Lee ’91. Charles McCrann LAW ’72. Christopher Murphy ’88. Stacey Sanders ’98.
Now, the once-somber tone on campus is more assured. In a way, the shock has faded; in a way, the fear has ebbed. Normalcy, students and professors say, has returned for some. For others, two years later, it is on its way.