Many of today’s SUNY Broome students are too young to remember 9/11 – assuming they were even born when the tragic events unfolded 18 years ago.
Those who were teens and adults during the massive terrorist attack on American soil invariably remember what they were doing when the first airplane struck the World Trade Center. It’s an event so seared into the national consciousness that only a date is required to evoke it.
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar was teaching when a student rushed into the classroom with the news. “I remember coming home. I remember what it smelled like,” the SUNY Broome alumnus said during the college’s annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony.
SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm was at a meeting when word came, and participants turned on a television to watch. His wife was pregnant with their son, now a senior in high school. A colleague called her daughter in Manhattan for firsthand news and, ending the call, reflected, “We haven’t done enough.”
“The first thing I thought about was: What was the world my son was going to grow up in?” President Drumm said, his voice thick with emotion. “Seventeen years later, now we know.”
There are bright spots in that world. An Israeli friend once said that the United States could probably expect similar terrorist attacks with some regularity, Dr. Drumm said. That hasn’t panned out, thanks to the efforts of law enforcement and Homeland Security in thwarting similar incidents.
But the generation now reaching the age of majority has grown up in a changed world. Troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest-running war in the nation’s history, Dr. Drumm said. Terrorism has been part of the daily news cycle for as long as they can remember – often domestic in origin. Many have been exposed to lockdown drills during their K-12 years, and grow up preparing to encounter an active shooter.
“In short, they have always known a world where life is fragile,” he said. “And that’s why we gather at this flagpole every single year – even 18 years after so many lost their lives. Because 9/11 has changed us, all of us, whether we remember it or not.”
The ceremony did more than remember the lost. It also honored the first-responders – the firefighters, paramedics and police officers – that responded not only that fateful day, but every day since, rushing toward scenes that would break anyone’s heart to save lives and make the world a safer place.
These include the students in the college’s Criminal Justice and Emergency Services programs. Nearly 90 percent of the nation’s first-responders receive some or all of their training at a community college, President Drumm noted.
After the terrorist attacks, Broome County’s first-responders headed three hours south to lend a hand in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center, Garnar noted. In a time of tragedy, they had only one thought: How can I help?
“That day showed how humanity is: It showed how evil and low humanity can be, and how amazing humans can be,” he said.