I remember standing in the front of the room and taking roll when the announcements came on the loud speaker. The assistant principal had already come to my hallway during the second and third periods class switch to hurriedly whisper what had just happened. I already knew what the principal was going to say, but I still found myself shaking and barely able to hold my pen while I marked the attendance. I was glad that my students didn't notice that my eyes were filled with tears.
The looks on their faces as the principal related the morning's events will haunt me for the rest of my life. In a few short moments, these 24 teenagers went from carefree adolescents to thoughtful and worried almost-adults. They wanted to be brave and strong, but most of all they wanted to understand why such a horrible thing could happen and who could commit such atrocities. Sadly, I could not explain it or the motives behind it.
We only knew the most basic of details. The television in my room was not connected to cable or an antenna so it was (thankfully) useless. I was unable to find out much on the computer since millions of people across the world were trying to access the same internet sites as I was. We spent our time rehashing what the principal had just told us and I tried my hardest to put an end to speculation and rumor.
I could only try to comfort them. I did a pitiful job of it and I'm sure my tears did little to lessen the confusion and emotional pain they felt. We talked a bit about Pearl Harbor and I did my best to assure them another world war was not going to break out. Of course, I had no way of guaranteeing such a thing, but I knew those kids were looking to me for reassurance and I didn't think a little white lie would hurt.
One of my students knew better, however. Her father was in the National Guard and she was well aware of what could be coming - the inevitable fallout from such an attack was not a mystery to her. I could do little to comfort her as she laid her head on her desk and sobbed.
The bell eventually rang and they left my room looking like zombies, as did the other 950 students who had just had similar experiences in their 3rd period classrooms. We spent a few days discussing, reassuring and comforting and then we went on with our school lessons and lives.
Every year on this date I think about those 24 kids. I wonder where they are and what they're doing. They'd be 22 or 23 years old now - old enough to have jobs, to have graduated from college, to have started families. They'd be old enough now to have a bit of historical perspective on the situation, perspective they didn't have as teenagers.
I wonder how they remember this date. When someone asks them, "Where were you when it happened?", what do they say? Do they remember how the principal's voice broke while she read the announcement over the loud speaker? Do they remember hugging their classmates? Do they remember how they felt when they realized that the world would never be the same again?
Obviously, I'll never know how they have or will respond to the question. But I'd like to think that they would remember that their teachers and administrators did the absolute best that they could on such a horrific day. I hope they realize that we were just as lost and sad as they were and that nothing could prepare us for their questions and for the range of emotions that we all felt.
Most of all, I hope they never forget how they felt that day. I know I won't and I will most certainly never forget those 24 teenagers. We share a bond, those teenagers and I. And when someone asks me where I was on that fateful day, I think of them and how the events of that day may have helped shape them into who they are today.