‘Where were you when?” It’s a question that defines generations. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Challenger explosion. These are the events that our parents and grandparents remember, that dominate their stories. For us, that event is September 11th, 2001.
“Where were you when?” We are among the last classes at Yale that will be able to truly answer that question. And we are among the first that, at the moment the planes hit the Towers, were unable to grasp what had actually transpired. The truth is most of us were in elementary school. We were young. And so, ten years later, when we asked Yale students to reflect on the attacks, we received answers that belonged distinctly to us.
Shortly after the attacks, professor John Lewis Gaddis wrote in the Yale Alumni Magazine of his students at the time, “This generation had not previously been known for the precision with which it speaks and writes; but suddenly it’s found a voice.” He quoted a News editorial from the time, which read, “Will we serve? We must answer the calling of our time — for if we don’t, who will?”
For those of us who were not in college on that day, but eight, nine, ten years old, the discussion is different. In this series of essays, Yale writers grapple with the reality of their relationship to 9/11. They ask, what does it mean to be defined by an event that many of us can remember only vaguely, and whose enormity and loss most of us could begin to comprehend only years later? What is it like to be the generation that straddled both “pre-” and “post-,” that grew up as much outside of 9/11’s shadow as within it?