The classes of ’05 and ’06 share a special bond. September 2001 began what was to have been the greatest years of our lives. You were reveling in ruling your respective high schools, lording your seniority over puny little freshmen, and the class of ’05 was happily turning into puny little freshmen all over again. We were just getting settled, just figuring out how to maneuver through this labyrinth called Yale.
Then came that gorgeous sunny morning of Sept. 11. We were asleep, or in class, or out enjoying the beautiful weather. Directed Studies students sat in their literature classes, talking about “The Iliad” and its gruesome portrayal of war over something so silly as Helen of Troy.
Then one question began to spread over the campus: “Have you heard?”
Some laughed when they saw the first plane, and then the second, hit the World Trade Center towers. It simply made no sense, a nonsensical farce, a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch, done in worse taste than usual. Only now this was reality — still poor taste, but there was nothing funny.
You know what followed. The Pentagon. Pennsylvania. The “where were you?” inquiries, like those that followed Pearl Harbor and the John F. Kennedy assassination. There was nothing on television for weeks but the “Attack on America” coverage. Here, there were candlelight vigils on Cross Campus and in Battell Chapel. Obituaries ran in The New York Times for weeks. We were less than two weeks into Yale.
Ali Kooshkabadi ’05, one of three freshmen born on Sept. 11, recalls the day like it was yesterday.
“I was heading out to Commons for breakfast,” Kooshkabadi said, “and I heard two guys whispering right in front of Beinecke.”
They were talking about the planes hitting the World Trade Center, Kooshkabadi said. Since he has family members in New York City, he said he could not help but be concerned. Still, he said, he went to his genetics class, and everyone was quiet and sad.
When he got back to his dorm, Kooshkabadi said he immediately called his mom, who hadn’t heard anything. She wished him a happy birthday, just as he told her to turn on the television.
“Pretty much for the rest of the day, I was glued to the TV,” Kooshkabadi said.
Sept. 11, Kooshkabadi said, can no longer be a day of festivity for him.
“I definitely won’t be celebrating my birthday on Sept. 11 anymore,” Kooshkabadi said. “We’re all Americans, you know, we were all affected by this tragedy.”
In the following days, we cringed every time we turned on the television. We swallowed our tongues when the Dominican Republic plane crashed and when teenager Charlie Bishop crashed his plane into a Florida skyscraper. Not long after, an Indian air force jet crashed into a bank building in northwestern India, starting a fire that killed at least seven people and injured 20. And still we waited for that next terrorist attack for which the State Department told us to be prepared on the 11th of every month.
In the wake of Sept. 11, there has been an awakening. Volunteerism is up. Yalies, like Leo Stevens ’05, spent many Fridays in the city working at “Ground Zero.” After the vigils and memorial services for former Yalies such as Bradley Hoorn ’01, who were killed in the terrorist attacks, professors stepped to the helm, steering debate about how to confront the modern-day Pearl Harbor.
We were constantly bombarded. The only thing on the televisions at Payne Whitney Gym was the “Attack on America” broadcasts along with the news ticker on the bottom of the screen, ready to inform us the second the world would once again end. When the CIA came to the on-campus job fair, 750 students flocked to the table. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the work suddenly became more attractive, more exciting.
The events of Sept. 11 have also re-shaped the way we look at the past. In every familiar old episode of “Friends,” in every one of the first “Sex and the City” shows, and in so many films and commercials, the towers of the World Trade Center — an integral part of the Manhattan skyline — can be seen in the background. But now they have stepped violently into the forefront.
We see the flags of Palestine and Israel hanging out of our neighbors’ windows, slapping against one another in the wind. We hear the anti-war call of the protesters on the corner of York and Elm streets. We read the papers and see the accounts of the almost-daily suicide bombings.
You come to Yale post-Sept. 11. Amidst the festivities of beginning here, you will doubtless be assaulted by the spectacle that will accompany the one-year anniversary of that tragic day. May you handle the circus with grace, and may the upperclassmen, particularly the sophomores, heed your fine example.