As the end of the year approaches, seniors are getting ready to graduate, finishing up their last papers, and looking back on their experiences as Yale undergraduates. The events of Sept. 11 shocked the world. Watching in horror as the attacks that claimed so many lives unfolded live on television many students could only express their disbelief.
For those who had just returned to school ready for a year full of optimism and excitement, it was a harsh blow — especially for those students who are originally from New York City. While some students were better able to move on with their lives, others felt that the aftermath of Sept. 11 cast a dim shadow on the last year of their college career.
“I thought it was a joke or a prank,” said Max Kushner ’02, echoing the feeling of most students.
“It felt like it was in a movie and that it wasn’t really happening,” Melissa Salgado ’02 said.
Many students recall the intense waiting period when the phone lines were down and they could not reach their families in the city. During the day of the attacks students across Yale campus anxiously made calls, hoping to hear word about loved ones.
Susan Gaunt ’02 attended Stuyvesant High School, which is situated only a few blocks away from the site. She looked back on her fears about her old school.
“I heard that some of the windows cracked and shattered, and I wondered if the windows by the pool were all right,” she said. “I kept envisioning them shattered into millions of pieces and blown into the pool by the explosion.”
Numerous students felt that the best way to deal with the event was to respectfully go on with their daily activities. Kushner, who runs a gaming club, decided to continue with the club’s meeting scheduled for that evening.
“I wanted to be with people I liked,” he said. “People were very happy it was still going on.”
Many other students shared this wish and looked to their families for this kind of comfort.
Adriana Roitstein-Vega ’02, whose family could see the World Trade Center from their window before the attacks, said she returned to the city about two weeks after it happened. Roitstein-Vega is a former Scene editor for the Yale Daily News.
“I didn’t want to go home — I was afraid to,” she said. Nonetheless, she went to see her parents, who were forced to stay in a hotel due to the proximity of the attacks.
Many New Yorkers went home shortly after and recalled that the tone of the city was extremely grave. “[The city] was very somber, everyone was very sedated,” said Joseph Cubas ’02, who went home the weekend after the attacks.
Gaunt noticed another change in the spirit of the city.
“New York is not usually nationalistic. It is far more New York than USA-oriented, and I think that had changed,” he said.
Soon, the city seemed to return to the way things were.
“Not that much changed, except that there were more flags,” said Salgado.
New Yorkers made the attempt to put the tragedy behind them and go on with their lives as normally as possible.
“It was back to business as usual,” said Cubas. “People had their usual pep in their step.”
The opening of the viewing decks near Ground Zero triggered mixed feelings. People waited in lines that were hours long for a chance for a glimpse or a picture of the sight, which made many people feel uneasy.
“While the [viewing decks] help people remember, they also make it touristy,” Cubas said.
The vendors selling “Ground Zero” and “FDNY” shirts and hats increased the anxiety of many New Yorkers.
Others see the decks as a necessary addition.
“It was a logical, rational decision because the area was so crowded,” Kushner said. “Hopefully it made people happy.”
The quick efforts to profit from the tragedy surprised many people, who had anticipated that the initial shock would have a more lasting effect.
“We expected everything to change,” Lisa Tannenbaum ’02 said. “But [New York] absorbed the shock and went back to normal.”
Now, seven months after the attacks, many students feel that they can move on.
“It changed my behavior in the short term but it didn’t change my year,” Kushner said.
Other students, however, felt differently.
“[The event] was a tragic bookend to my senior year,” Tannenbaum said. As an architecture major, she said that the events “touched deeply on everything I have learned.”
New York has further attempted to aid healing by recently unveiling a memorial at Ground Zero, consisting of two beams of light where the towers used to stand. Some wonder if any memorial could possibly truly do the tragedy justice.
“The memorial doesn’t even come close to a substitute for what happened,” Roitstein-Vega said.
Others nonetheless found comfort in the columns of light.
“I found the lights to be very appropriate and I really appreciated it,” Kushner said.
Tannenbaum considered the lights “the best of all possible choices.”
For Roitstein-Vega and many others the effects will be everlasting and safety will always be an issue.
“I used to be a die-hard New Yorker but now I’m not so sure how I feel anymore,” she said.