This first winter break after Sept. 11 was a time for serious and solemn reflection by many students, especially New Yorkers.

Many visited ground zero for the first time over winter break or wandered through the new “Faces of Ground Zero,” memorial in Grand Central Terminal as part of that process.

Some students found their time over winter break to be cathartic, while others longed to be more involved in recovery efforts in their hometown.

“On television it all seems very surreal, like it didn’t actually happen.” Matthew Ferraro ’04 said of ground zero. “You can’t appreciate the enormity of the atrocity until you actually see it.”

Lauren Gold ’03 agreed.

“In the news, you think it’s just one building,” she said. “But it’s the entire lower portion of Manhattan.”

Gold also sees the therapeutic potential of witnessing ground zero.

“You have to see it so you can tell your children about it, to raise people’s awareness,” she said. “Anything that allows people to have a direct experience with [the events of Sept. 11] can help prevent it from happening again.”

“American hegemony and the political motives behind the attacks are valuable topics of conversation,” Ferraro said, “but it’s important to remember what people did.”

Even with the recent building of a platform and establishment of a ticket system in order to view ground zero, the attitude surrounding the site is decidedly somber.

“People are respectful,” Ferraro said. “With the platform and all, there was the potential for the site to become too much like a Disneyland. But it wasn’t gaudy at all. People took pictures in silence and treated ground zero as a hallowed burial ground.”

But Gold recognizes that some people have reservations about viewing ground zero.

“I wanted my own private observation,” Sonia von Gutfeld ’04 said. “But going down there is a very public experience.”

And von Gutfeld expressed her regret that visits to ground zero seem to dominate tourism in New York.

“It’s a shame that now a lot of the New York City experience is about ground zero. You find yourself wanting to tell people to look at other things, too.”

Ultimately, however, von Gutfeld feels that it’s important for people to see ground zero “so they never forget.”

In the midst of the city’s “Paint the Town Red, White and Blue” tourism campaign, ground zero continues to draw new visitors to Lower Manhattan.

Ferraro acknowledges the security and economic benefits the platform provides, as well.

“People are going to go anyway. With the platform and tickets, they can view ground zero in a safe, orderly manner.”

The new ticket system gives tourists a free ticket for the viewing platform several hours in advance.

“While they’re waiting, tourists can shop in the area or get something to eat,” Ferraro said, “both of which help to improve the economy in an area that only months ago was stifled.”

David Beller ’04, too, notices the difference.

“The atmosphere of the city has picked up a lot since Thanksgiving,” he said. “The typical rude, fast-paced New Yorker has been replaced by one who is much more courteous of his fellow citizens.”

But along with newfound courteousness, there still hangs a cloud of deep sadness.

“So many people have lost loved ones,” Julie Chan ’05 said. “That knowledge made me treasure being with my family this Christmas all the more.”

And, in addition to the actual attack site in Lower Manhattan, there are a variety of memorials forming across the city.

One memorial open until Jan. 20 in Grand Central Terminal, shows 87 oversized photographs of the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11 attacks. The portraits were shot by former Life magazine photographer Joe McNally.

“You can look into the faces of those who gave their lives,” Chan said. “When I went, everyone around me was crying.”

The return to Yale for the spring semester was different for many New Yorkers than in past years.

“I wanted to stay in New York to help and volunteer in any way I could,” von Gutfeld said.

“It’s still very much an open wound,” Gold said. “Unlike many other tragedies, the events of 9/11 are still foremost in many people’s minds.”

They leave behind a city that is forever changed.

“The city has been transformed by the attacks,” Beller said. “It’s part of every New Yorker’s life.”