Over the last few years there has been much written about “the class of 9/11,” a title given to the recently graduated class of 2005 whose entrance into college coincided with that tragic day. The class of 9/11 seems an apt description for that particular generation of young Americans who have found themselves forever connected to and defined by that Tuesday morning.
Here at GW, everyone who was on campus on that day has his or her own stories. When the subject comes up, as it inevitably seems to if you talk to someone long enough, most speak quietly about a day that began so beautifully and ended with such tragedy. Some just pause and say nothing.
Last week, as the anniversary of 9/11 passed quietly by, I realized that with the graduation of the class of 9/11 there are now no undergraduates left at GW who were on campus on that fateful day.
I thought back to my own first week as a freshman and how the new excitement of college life was quietly tempered on the first anniversary of 9/11. At that time, September 2002, we freshmen were the only students who had not been on campus during 9/11. And there was a quiet disconnect between those for whom 9/11 had been images on television and those who heard Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon as they came out of class.
For a while now I’ve thought about the class of 9/11 and how my class, the class of 2006, differed from them. While the class of 2005, like all of America, was caught by surprise and watched their world change around them, the class of 2006 arrived fully aware that they were entering a different world. After all, we had chosen to come to the center of it all.
We were the first class that entered college in the world after 9/11 and our life decisions came at a time of unprecedented national uncertainty. When we submitted our applications to GW, we did so knowing that it was less then two miles from campus to the Pentagon. When our acceptance letters came there were long conversations to convince our parents that we would be safe in the midst of the next orange alert. Every commencement address we heard as we graduated from high school reminded us of the changed world that we were entering.
We chose to come to a school that sat in the center of a terrorist’s bull’s-eye at a time when no one had any idea when the next attack was going to come. Suddenly, going to school a few blocks from the White House wasn’t always something to brag about; it was now a reminder that we we’re closer than anyone to dangers of this new reality.
And maybe that’s part of what drew us here.
I admit that on initial examination there doesn’t seem to be anything all that different about the class of 2006. We sure don’t look any different from any other GW students and by no means do I mean to make the claim that we are extraordinary. But the class of 2006 exists in the small sphere of those for whom the world changed at the very time they were coming of age, and I wonder if choosing GW and our contributions here in the last four years in any way reflect that.
The class of 9/11 will always be characterized by the events of that day, but I suggest that the class of 2006 were most defined by its impact. For that reason I say that we are something different from the class of 9/11.
We are “the class of 9/12.”
Over the next few weeks and months I’m going to be exploring this idea, and I invite members of the class of 2006 and the GW community to contact me and share their impressions and thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Maybe I’m wrong here, but my hunch is that I’m not. I’m pretty sure that there’s more to the class of 9/12. I hope you’ll help me find out exactly what it is.
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.