I was beginning my freshman year of college and was only a few weeks removed from my childhood home in northern New Jersey when the towers came down. My hometown is a commuter town less than 20 miles from downtown Manhattan. We grew up with the Manhattan skyline and the towers constantly visible from any elevated point in town. Only a handful of the 700 casualties from New Jersey were from my town, but among them were parents of friends, and a former baseball coach. There were countless other ‘close calls’ as well. My father-in-law had just missed his train. My dad was running late to a meeting when he noticed the smoke. My wife, who was a sophomore in high school at the time, still remembers the smell and the dust.
As a nation we will never forget what happened that day; but what people my age (I’m 27 now) and older tend to forget is that time marches on. Most incoming TCU freshmen (ages 18-20) were under 10-years-old when the attacks occurred. Not coincidentally, the average age of army enlistment over the past 10 years is 21.3 years, meaning that the average solider volunteering to fight in Afghanistan was only 11-years-old on 9/11.
I wonder, what is the real meaning of 9/11 to this next generation? Have we, as those who experienced it first-hand, properly conveyed the value of lessons learned through unspeakable tragedy? What will my wife and I tell our children the day when they learn about it in history class?
We face now, as we faced then, a choice: do we order our society around security instead of liberty while we lash out in anger? Or do we continue to show our strength by living in a truly free and tolerant society? The events of 9/11 brought out the qualities such as resilience, compassion, and diversity that make our country great. Following 9/11, the American people set aside traditional differences of race, class, and religion, and helped their fellow countrymen. Almost all of the 300+ businesses impacted by the attacks have relocated and resumed business. Immigrants from the world over continue to flock to the US to make their way towards a better future.
There is no remedy for the pain felt by victims and their families. Yet we must not let grief and fear define us as a nation. There are those who use this tragedy for political benefit; to prey on ignorance, to inspire fear, or incite hatred. It is my sincere belief that future generations will place these individuals on the wrong side of history. For it was fear, ignorance, and hatred that prompted 19 young men to board three flights on a September morning 10 years ago and change the world forever.
Owen Uscher is an MBA Candidate 2012 Fort Worth, TX.