Take It Seriously

I was a 4th grade student in Mrs. Gilbert’s class in a rural community outside of Goldsboro, NC on September 11, 2001. Unlike many schoolchildren, however, I did not watch the events unfold on live television from the classroom. In fact, I didn’t even know what had happened until school was dismissed for the day.

My school apparently made the decision not to tell students what was happening, but they did inform teachers. I remember a vice principal coming and asking to speak to my teacher in the hallway, where I assume he told her what had happened. I didn’t think much about that at the time, and I don’t remember much of the rest of the school day — until it was time for dismissal. Shortly before releasing us for the day, my teacher said, “When you all get home today, you’re going to see some things on television. I want you to take it seriously.” I tear up just thinking about the solemnity with which she shared those words, and I could tell all she wanted was to protect her flock from the terror and horrors that we were about to encounter when we got home.

Experiencing 9/11 as a 9-year old meant that I had virtually no understanding of the ramifications of what had actually happened. But those simple, solemn words spoken by my teacher on that afternoon stuck with me in a way that has been so, so impactful — and is always one of the first things I think about when I hear people talking about their own “where were you?” stories.

When I got home from school that day, I took it seriously, Mrs. Gilbert. And I still do today.

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