Friday, September 9, 2011

Growing up after 9/11

Herald reporter Paradise Afshar
People always talk about the big moments from their childhood that made them feel like an adult.

For me, that happened when I was in the eighth grade in Weston, Fla., during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I was only 12 years old, and  looking back that was the day that made me grow up quickly.

Being of Iranian descent, I had to quickly become an expert on the Middle East to answer all the questions I was getting from other students following the attacks. I had to know about Islam and its teachings, when I was still learning myself.

I remember I was asked everything from "why did this happen?" as if I knew, to "do you think they will send you to an interment camp?"

I never realized  how much the event impacted my life until today. I was reporting on a  luncheon for first responders at R. Dan Nolan Middle School in Lakewood Ranch and it hit me, a decade ago I was about the same age and grade as these students.

Nolan history teacher Diane Blevins-Vestrand told me that back in 2001 she had her eighth-graders write down their emotions in a journal entry. She was nice enough to invite me to her classroom to look at the letters.

As I read them, all the emotions I experienced then came pouring back. The journal entries expressed every ounce of  fear, anger and confusion students felt  when they first heard of the attacks.

"All that was going through my mind was 'oh my gosh we're going to die," said one student in her entry. She went on to write how she wanted justice for the victims.Yet, you could sense her feeling of helplessness. She wanted results, she wanted an end to terrorism, something we all want today.

When class started, Blevins-Vestrand read that entry to her eighth-graders, and began to explain to them what happened on 9/11. Since I covered another 9/11 event this week, I recounted to them the story of a man who was in a stairwell on the 10th floor of the South Tower when it was struck. I explained how in the chaos a maintenance worker held the door open for him and others as they walked out of the building, an example of  the unity people felt that day.

Blevins-Vestrand and I also explained how great the firefighters, law enforcement officers and even the journalists were that day, going about their business to save lives and to capture the moment.

The students were asked to write down their emotions on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. I have no idea what they wrote or how the day hit them, but I hope whatever they wrote will be filled with less fear and uncertainty than the entries Blevins-Vestrand's students or I would have written a decade ago.

-- Paradise Afshar

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