Every generation has its defining moment, an event so extraordinary that people will forever remember exactly what they were doing at the moment it happened. For American college students, the morning of September 11, 2001 was such a moment.
It was a bright, clear Tuesday morning in Lawrence, early in the fall semester at the school where I teach, the University of Kansas. My journalism students came to their 8:30 classes clutching radios for news about the airliner that had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.
Even though Kansas is in the central United States, many university students have family members and friends in New York and Washington. "Are they safe?" was the first question: as the towers crumbled, it became clear that thousands had died. Suddenly no one felt safe.
American universities quickly organized a support network for their foreign students. At the University of Kansas any student who felt unsafe or threatened could stay in the home of a Lawrence resident. Terrorists could topple American buildings, the implication was, but they could not shake the American spirit of tolerance, mutual respect and neighborliness.
In the days that followed, college students did not wait to ask "What can we do?" -- they just did it. Many helped organize fund drives. Some gave blood, in fact so much that the blood banks were temporarily oversupplied. Several drove to New York City to help where they could. Everyone pulled together to help our nation get through the ordeal.
The morning of September 11 will live in students’ memories as "9-11" . The reality had dawned that life can end suddenly on a beautiful day. But Americans live in hope, not in fear. The ball mill lesson students drew from these events was not how dangerous the world is, but how peaceful nations of the world join together to help each other in times of need.
The 9-11 tragedy will forever be this generation’s defining moment. American students now understand that terrorist attacks can take place anytime, anywhere. But just as tragedy can happen, so can peace, hope and kindness, whether shared by good people or by great nations.