Students reflect on growing up in the shadow of 9/11

Max Oberlander
On May 2, 2011, Max Oberlander and other students in Patrick O'Connor's History of the Americas class at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minn., debated the issues surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. "Was it important to kill him?" asked Oberlander. "How would things be different if he was just captured?"
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

The death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has stirred up stark memories of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

On that day, most of today's high school seniors were only 8 years old, but for a group of them at Southwest High school in Minneapolis, the memories of that day were still vivid.

They spent much of the school day Monday discussing the death of bin Laden and what it means for the United States.

In teacher Patrick O'Connor's afternoon History of the Americas class at Minneapolis' Southwest High School in Minneapolis, he asked his students a lot of questions.

How did they feel about the killing of bin Laden? How will this change the nation's war on terror? And ... "Do you feel more secure now because of this action?"

The class answered, "No."

These students -- all of them seniors -- were in the third grade when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington.

Nermine Abdelwahab
On May 2, 2011, Nermine Abdelwahab and her classmates at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minn., participated in discussions about the death of Osama bin Laden. "Honestly I'm conflicted over what I should feel," said Abdelwahab. "I'm happy that we've served justice. But I'm also scared for the future."
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

They recalled the images from that day as if they happened yesterday, not a decade ago.

"I remember a TV getting rolled into the classroom, and we were all so confused, 17-year-old Nermine Abdelwahab said. "I remember my teacher crying, really really hard."

Abdelwahab is Muslim and wears a head scarf. For her some of the most striking personal memories come from after the attacks.

"Right after 9/11, somebody spit on my mother," she said. "That was just horrifying because I'm going through this, as well as they are, and I don't understand how they can just assume so much. It hurts everybody; terrorism doesn't discriminate."

Other Southwest High School students may not have not have suffered the same personal affront as Abdelwahab's family, but the fear and uncertainty of the day is still close to the surface.

"My main memory is in the lunchroom," 18-year-old Corrine Dickey said. "They closed all the curtains. We were all really confused as to why they were doing that. Then we were told we might be bombed. It was scary, confusing."

Eighteen-year old Anders Berglund was at home before school that day.

"My mom came in and turned on the T.V., and she was crying, and she was talking to her sister on the phone because she's from Washington D.C."

Eighteen-year-old Carter Bellaimey was in his family's basement watching coverage of the attacks.

"I shouted up the stairs, 'I think one of the towers might fall,' and my mom said, 'No, that won't happen,' and then tower fell."

Along with their differing recollections of 9/11, the students have different reactions to the killing of bin Laden.

Belaimey said he was glad to see bin Laden go.

"But I think, more importantly, that his death is an important symbol for our nation," he said. "And especially for the people whose families were torn apart on 9/11. That symbol and that sense of some sort of closure is really important."

For Dickey, who waited in the lunchroom to see if her school would be bombed, the news of bin Laden's death leaves her with conflicting feelings.

"I personally can't celebrate death. It's sad, even though it's someone who's done so many terrible things. I think it's great that justice has been achieved."

These students have lived most of their lives with the post-9/11 threat of terrorism on U.S. soil. They say it's not something they worry about too much, but its always there in the back of their mind. They don't think that's going to change with the death of bin Laden.

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