SANFORD, N.C. - Even for some of the most shocking, life-changing events, memories fade and important lessons can be forgotten as time marches on. That was one reason Central Carolina Community College held its 9/11 Commemoration on September 11: to recount the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil and maybe reconnect with lessons learned that day.
It was crisp and clear as New Yorkers continued their daily march into Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, like any other Tuesday morning in the city. But just as offices were filling up and people were getting down to work, the world changed forever.
At 8:46 a.m., a passenger jet flying from Boston to Los Angeles crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center more than 90 floors above the city streets, eventually causing the building to collapse.
At the time, it seemed like a dreadful accident. But just minutes later, the truth became clear: America was under attack.
At 9:03 a.m., another Boeing 767 following the same route slammed into the second of the Twin Towers, eventually causing that skyscraper to fall into rubble. About a half hour later, a third plane, this one en route from Washington to Los Angeles, dove into the Pentagon. After another half hour, a fourth plane flying from Newark, N.J., crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers understanding what was unfolding elsewhere attacked the cockpit to keep hijackers from killing even more. Investigators later determined that target was likely the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
9/11: Never Forget
In all, 2,977 lives were lost that September morning in what CCCC History Instructor Robert Barnes calls, "102 minutes that changed America." Barnes recounted the events and their aftermath in "9/11: Never Forget," his video presentation that anchored the commemoration.
For many adults, 9/11 remains a vivid memory. But with so many college students among roughly 150 people attending in the Dennis A. Wicker Civic & Conference Center Auditorium, few in the audience were even born when events unfolded and everything changed.
Barnes walked through events of the day -- from 7:59 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 departed from Boston until 10:53 a.m., when U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the U.S. military readiness upgraded to DEFCON3, one of the highest alerts the military had experienced in decades. He then recounted the heroism of first responders, who searched through the rubble for 200 days, initially to rescue victims, but later to recover bodies.
As he concluded, Barnes discussed how 9/11 changed America's role in the world. How it shifted domestic and foreign policy. How it generated new laws, including the sweeping USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. How it launched the decades-long War on Terror. And how it changed national priorities.
"9/11 was the event that influenced a generation that has a living memory," Barnes said. "For my parents' generation, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Or my grandparents' generation, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. But for my generation, I will always remember where I was, how I felt, as the tragedy of 9/11 unfolded.
"This changed everything."
Lessons Still to Learn
This 9/11 Commemoration wasn't only about what happened 22 years ago. After the video presentation, CCCC Social Sciences Lead Instructor Bianka Stumpf took the stage to give her memory of the day, recalling how she learned about the attacks while teaching history at Lee County High School -- and how she and her students grappled with the attack for weeks to come, watching news coverage and personal recollections recorded from TV onto VHS tapes.
Even a decade after 9/11, Stumpf was still considering how to help students respond to the tragedy when she thought about a line written by children's television host Fred Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" Reflecting on the work of first responders and others around 9/11, she began encouraging people in times of disaster to look for the helpers. And, ever since, she has provided thank you notes with stamped envelopes so her students could thank the helpers who made their lives better.
Holding a small, wicker basket full of stationery, she offered that opportunity to everyone attending CCCC's 9/11 Commemoration. And, as they walked out of the auditorium and into the foyer, dozens did.
CCCC Director of Veterans Upward Bound and Military Affiliated Initiatives Jennifer Dillon, who developed the program and coordinated with Stumpf to offer the event as part of ACES, the college's Academic and Cultural Enrichment Series, hoped for that kind of response. She not only wanted to remind everyone about what unfolded that tragic day, but also to help the audience reconnect with others who may have different views and come to see America again as one nation, something larger than ourselves.
"I hope we all leave learning something new and feeling connected," Dillon said just moments before the formal program began. "We're all Americans, side by side, and I would like us to tap into hope, unity and resilience again."
CCCC Director of Veterans Upward Bound and Military Affiliated Initiatives Jennifer Dillon, said during the CCCC 9/11 Commemoration event: 'I hope we all leave learning something new and feeling connected.'
Bianka Stumpf, Central Carolina Community College Social Sciences Lead Instructor, gives her memory of Sept. 11, 2001, during the CCCC 9/11 Commemoration event.