20 Years Later

Staff reflects on the tragedy of September 11, 2001

A photograph shows fuselage debris from UA93.

Briann Kline and Alexis Spangler

Twenty years ago, this nation was struck by an inconceivable tragedy. Almost three thousand lives were taken by the terroristic actions of the extremist group, Al Qaeda, and even more were broken, left in the dust of Ground Zero. Since then, America has worked to put itself back together, piece-by-piece. While we as a country have put this event in our past, countless lives are still reeling from this incident. For AP Government teacher Mr. Glenn Cummings, the tragedy of 9/11 is still a fresh scar with-in his mind.
“The only time that I’ve actually ever been able to get through [talking about 9/11] is removing myself from it and then talking about it more like a historical event as opposed to the emotion of the day,” he said.
Cummings has taught history for 34 years, and for 20 years he has had to teach about the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Two decades later, he still remembers the day like it was yesterday.
“The principal came on, and I didn’t know the first plane had struck the World Trade Center yet,” he said. “[The principal] said, ‘A second plane has struck the World Trade Center; we are under attack.’”
Cummings couldn’t imagine the enormity of this tragedy happening. Americans as a whole felt safe, sheltered in our country.
“It was just unfathomable that this could happen,” he said. “We had grown to feel so secure that those things aren’t happening here.”
For many Americans, 9/11 is the first, and only, mass-scale attack they remember occurring on U.S. soil in their lifetime. Cummings compares this tragedy to Pearl Harbor, noting how he couldn’t entirely wrap his head around the scale of it due to him not being born yet at the time of the attack. He thinks this is how it is for the younger “Generation Z,” who can only learn about this tragedy from history and those who lived then.
“It’s also so incredibly different for [students today] because I don’t think that [they] can understand the magnitude of it, just like I can’t understand the magnitude of Pearl Harbor being attacked,” Cummings said. “That was 23 years before I was born, it just doesn’t impact me the way 9/11 does.”
When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Hoover English teacher Ms. Missy Stertzbach was sitting in her office on 62nd St. in New York City, approximately 80 blocks away from the tragedy.
“Initially, we, like everyone else, thought that was a horrible accident of some kind,” Stertzbach told The Viking Views in 2011. “It was impossible for us to know if our whole city was under attack.”
Psychology teacher Mr. Jim Draher attended Hoover High School as a sophomore during the 2001-02 school year.
“I remember sitting in study hall and the monitor was going around turning on the TVs and I thought to myself, ‘What in the world, why is she doing that? There’s no reason for her to do that,’” he said. “As I was going upstairs, I saw the first tower fall, and the rest of the day we were glued to the TV screen.”
Administration and students alike spent September 11, 2001 in a cloud of uncertainty, dread, and confusion. Some teachers wanted to know exactly what was happening, while others thought not knowing might be better than the alternative, no matter how painful.
“I did have a teacher whose spouse flew out of an airport that morning,” Draher said. “That teacher did not want to turn the TV on. They did not want to imagine their spouse possibly being on one of those planes, so we went on with class as usual.”
For Cummings, his class conduct contrasted with Draher. He turned on his television and welcomed inquiries, and though he didn’t always know the answers, he wanted to reassure his students of their own safety.
“AP Gov stopped for a week,” he said. “All we did was watch updates, talk about it, talk about what might have happened.”
Cummings remembers the emotions that 9/11 prompted. Students and administration alike stood together, trying to make sense of everything.
“The bells ring, and as the students file into the hallway there’s not a word,” he said. “We have over 2000 people in the school and nobody is talking — no teachers, no students. Silence.”
America looks very different from what it did 20 years ago, and some of that can be attributed to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. For example, then-President George W. Bush signed legislation creating the Transportation Security Administration [TSA], federal airport screeners that replaced the private companies airlines hired as security. The law required that all checked bags be screened, doors be reinforced, and more federal air marshals be put on flights.
“I remember when I was a kid, my grandfather taking me to the Akron-Canton Airport, we would be able to go watch the planes fly or go down the different terminals,” Draher said. “You can’t do that anymore. You have to check in right away. That’s all because of 9/11.”
Stertzbach looks back at the tragedy as a horrific, terrifying, grim mark on American history. But she also marvels at how, while broken and scarred, America persevered.
“There was a very powerful thing that happened in the months that followed,” Stertzbach said. “Americans came together and proved that together, we would survive.”