On Sept. 11, 2001, Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., and other TROY leaders were on a community engagement bus tour, making stops in the towns and cities in the University’s service area to connect with alumni and raise awareness.
As they left Troy that morning, they heard news of what at the time was thought to be a plane crash at the World Trade City. As the tour rolled on, more details came in and it soon became apparent that the situation was much more dire.
“By the time we made the second stop of the day in Montgomery, we knew the world had changed,” Hawkins said.
The world-changing events of 9/11 left an indelible mark on the U.S., sparking a wave of pride, unity and patriotism as the country’s citizens healed in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
But for the incoming class of TROY freshmen, 9/11 isn’t a memory at all, but rather a historical event along the lines of Pearl Harbor for the previous generation.
“It’s kind of weird in that it wasn’t really taught to us in school,” said Tatyana Boddie, a freshman political science major who was born less than two months before 9/11. “Whenever we got to the subject, they’d show a documentary. It’s definitely been hard, especially being from a different generation, to try and talk to someone about it, because there were so many emotions going on at that time. The war on terror is still going on. The event itself was relatively recent, so there’s not much research and text where the younger generation can completely understand it. A lot of what I’ve heard about it is watching people talk about it on videos.”
Freshman political science major Nick Molk was just a 1-year-old when the attacks happened.
“It really came out of nowhere — I learned about it in second grade,” Molk said. “I remember that day vividly. The teacher gave out an assignment, and it said, ‘Learn about 9/11.’ I had no idea what that meant. I was just starting to mature in school, and then we soon realized that two planes ran into the World Trade Center. It was really hard to fathom and a lot to take in.”
It’s a challenging subject for teachers as well, because of the memories and emotions are still strong.
“I would say, probably like D-Day was for my grandparents’ generation, and trying to tell the story of what life was like before D-Day to my parents’ generation, we’re now going through the same thing,” said Dr. Michael Slobodchikoff, Chair of the Department of Political Science. “The students that we have now, not just freshmen, even some of the juniors and seniors who were 3 or 4 years old at the time, they don’t remember a time when we were not at war. So for them, it’s a constant state of affairs. It makes it a challenge, because a lot of us remember the pre-9/11 world and compare it to the post-911 world.”
Reflecting on the days and weeks after the terrorist attacks, Hawkins recalled the sense of unity and national identity that emerged.
“That sense of togetherness and national pride is needed just as much today,” Dr. Hawkins said. “We need to find a way to come together in patriotism and service without a traumatic event as the catalyst. If we can do that as Americans, we can truly work together to achieve great things.”
Boddie has been particularly fascinated by what she called the “double-edged sword” that led to such unity.
“It was this really bad, horrible event, but it did bring a whole lot of people together,” she said. “That’s one thing I’ve seen in videos and from people recalling that time. There was a lot of fighting within the country, but with people could unite in the aftermath of 9/11.”
For the current generation of TROY students, there is no real recollection of a pre-9/11 world.
“It’s hard to comprehend how life was before,” Molk said. “I used to go to New York as a kid, having no idea what happened, not even knowing what the World Trade Center was.”
Boddie considers 9/11 to be perhaps the most important event to study in U.S. history simply due to its importance in how the world operates today.
“It still affects everything we do in the world, especially how we relate to the Middle East,” Boddie. “With the war still going on, it’s an important day to study and look back on, because it is more recent than things like Vietnam or Pearl Harbor, and it’s more relevant to how our society works and operates today in a lot of ways.”