As the members of Yale’s Class of 2002 pass through the ivied walls of Yale for the final time, they will be entering a world that has changed dramatically since they set foot on campus as idealistic freshmen four years ago.
The men and women of the senior class comprise the first wave of undergraduates to emerge from Yale into a changed post-Sept. 11 world.
When this year’s seniors began their college experience in August of 1998, the nation was riding high on a wave of sustained economic prosperity and relative peace. Now, as they ready themselves to enter the real world, the times appear to be less forgiving; the lavish spending of the 1990s has given way to recession, and a war on terrorism with no end in sight has gripped the national consciousness.
For many seniors, the initial reaction to the terrorist attacks consisted of shock, awe and downright bewilderment.
With a call from his mother, Robbie Berschinski ’02 awoke just before the second tower was struck. He said the news left him astonished, but as time progressed he experienced feelings of “amazement and anger.” Berschinski, who will be working as an intelligence officer in the Air Force after graduation, said the attacks did not significantly affect how he views his military career.
“It didn’t change my outlook all that much,” Berschinski said. “It probably did change what my career will be like — as I am now much more likely to be involved in Middle Eastern politics and those sorts of things as an intelligence officer. [But] I’ve always wanted the job I’m going into; I can’t say it reinvigorated my desire but that the desire was already present.”
Berschinski added that following Sept. 11, about half a dozen individuals with a desire to fulfill their patriotic duty came to him to find out about his service in the armed forces. He also said Sept. 11 was a defining moment of his senior year, but that the event was not woven into the fabric of his everyday life.
“It’s going to be a defining moment in our generation,” Berschinski said. “[But] I don’t think it played a daily role in my life or the lives of the people I was around.”
Rob Mutter ’02, a Canadian citizen, said he remembers feeling overwhelmed by the surreal images being flashed on television.
Mutter, like many seniors, was also affected on a personal level by the Sept. 11 attacks, as many Yalies work in New York City upon graduation.
“Being a Yale student, the events hit much closer to home, as I have many friends and former teammates that work in the financial industry and did not know whether I would be directly affected by the loss of someone I knew,” Mutter said.
The terrorist attacks have also made it more difficult for seniors searching for employment, as many companies are rethinking their hiring needs.
However, after the attacks, some seniors expressed a heightened interest in making a noticeable difference in the global community. Becky Bowman ’02, who will be doing refugee work after graduation, said Sept. 11 has caused her to reflect more on how to assist people in a holistic capacity.
“Sept. 11 does make me think more about how I can help the most people the most effectively,” Bowman said. “It has taken some focus off of doing the needed individual, person-to-person work.”
For Kimberly Fitzgerald ’02, the attacks have made her realize that worries about her future career path pale in comparison to what is really important in life.
“Picking a career path became less of a burden and more of a blessing,” Fitzgerald said in an e-mail. “Being in good health has been a major factor in how great I feel about life, and so going into health care became the career path I thought would be most rewarding.”
Anne Kim ’02, a California resident, said in an e-mail that even though she does not have family or close friends in New York, the attacks still had a noticeable impact on her life. Kim, who normally flies home to San Francisco from the Newark or John F. Kennedy airports, said her mother would not let her fly home following the attacks.
Kim, whose mother works in the airline industry, said the aftermath of Sept. 11 has not been easy on her family.
“It’s been rough for a long time afterwards, especially for my mom,” Kim said. “She works for United Airlines, and with the employee cuts and all, she’s been working like crazy, trying (with everybody else) to save United from going under.”
Kim said she will be attending graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley in the fall, and that the tightened job market has driven many students to continue their higher education. She added that many of the schools she considered reported a surge in applications this year.
“I always knew I was going to apply to grad school, and this year I guess everybody else decided the same,” Kim said. “With the job market so drastically changed, I guess going back to school seemed like an appealing option for a lot of people.”
Kelly Barrett ’02 said she will never forget the morning of Sept. 11. On that fateful Tuesday, Barrett had just completed her usual routine of lifting weights in the varsity weight room and was freshening up in the locker room when she heard about the crash over the radio.
Barrett, who is from Pottstown, PA, said the event most powerfully affected her in October at a U2 concert in New Jersey.
“I had seen the same tour earlier in the summer, but now, after Sept. 11, the show had been adjusted to respond to the tragedy,” she said. “Bono emphasized the need for remembrance and also for healing, and as U2 sang ‘With or Without You,’ the names of all of the victims were projected across the walls of the arena. It is a memory that will stay with me forever.”
Barrett said the Sept. 11 attack has left a deep impression on her year and has provided her with a renewed appreciation for life.
“The event has affected my senior year, because it has put everything else in perspective,” she said. “It is a constant reminder that life is unstable and that we must appreciate every moment that we have, because we cannot control what the future holds.”