ESSAY | My Sept. 11

I wrote the following thinking I’d submit it to The Hill News, but I ultimately decided against it. My readers here may enjoy it:

By Ed Forbes ’02

St. Lawrence is not really fully in gear, in my experience, until noon and as news of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon broke, much of the campus was just waking up.

News organizations were still adjusting to the Internet and I recall most students following the story via television reports. My roommate, Matt Lavin ’02, and I were living in a suite with Tim Furnary ’03 and Leif Skodnick ’02. All of us were on The Hill News and I was the editor.

Lavin was watching “Today” when Matt Lauer broke away from an interview and footage of the Trade Center appeared at 8:51 a.m. I was in the shower and he shouted in that a prop plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Of course, it wasn’t a prop plane, it was American Airlines Flight 11. By 9:03, when United Flight 175 crashed into the south tower, it was clear what was happening.

We immediately tried calling Carl Juers ’99, a good friend who was working as a trader for CIBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Juers was based in the World Financial Center and so, too, was Skodnick’s father, Joel. Telecom infrastructure was swamped.

On campus, word of the attacks spread by word-of-mouth. Few Laurentians had cell phones in 2001 and, if they did, they didn’t work anyway. Students in 8:30 classes emerged from academic buildings to a landscape of rumor, hyperbole and fear.

Just as classes changed, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. I had left our room and had gone up to the Noble Center to see if any murmurings about canceling classes had been heard form Vilas. Craig Harris, a member of the Student Life staff, and I watched footage from Washington. Not long afterward, Lavin and I went to the President’s Office to see how St. Lawrence would handle the attacks. Classes went on; the University was to gather for a vigil at 8 p.m.

Counseling staff set up a center for students to grieve. At noon, the Bacheller Memorial Chime rang 12 times to honor the victims. The Rev. Kathleen Buckley, just arrived as University Chaplain, led her new flock through the evening service of compassion.

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, after having established that both Juers and Mr. Skodnick were safe — both had fled northward from Ground Zero and Juers had witnessed Flight 175’s impact and the horrific scene of bodies falling from both towers, we set about publishing The Hill News for Sept. 14.

Lavin wrote a main story that detailed the University’s reactions. We carried a two-page photo essay comprised of images taken our imcomparable photo editor Dustin Williamson ’02. Every member of the Editorial Board wrote his own editorial or column, which we published on pages 2 and 3. The big get, as it were, was an interview I did with Juers, who relayed his horrific experience. Further inside, we ran a list of alums who had reported themselves as safe in both Washington and New York.

We would know for sure that five Laurentians — Robert J. “Bobby” Coll, Catherine Gorayeb, Christopher Morrison, Michel A. “Mike” Pelletier and Richard H. “Richie” Stewart Jr. — until after the paper went to bed.

Steve Knight ’12, editor of The Hill News today, asked me earlier this week if I worried then or now about a ROTC ad that appeared in the Sept. 21, 2002 issue of the paper. At the time, The Hill News supported itself significantly on advertising revenue and ROTC was likely under contract before the attacks. Even so, “United We Stand” were the watchwords that week and really for the rest of the semester. Every student organization, it seemed, was doing something patriotic. American flags were everywhere. There was seemingly a genuine unity — among students, at least.

When my parents, northern New Jersey residents, came to campus at the end of the month for Parents’ Weekend, they were shell-shocked. Canton hadn’t received the full barrage of coverage that the metropolitan market had and my understanding of how badly the attacks had altered so many communities became instantly clearer.

As the fall wore on, my class made plans to erect a monument to the Laurentian victims of the attacks. Our foray into Afghanistan grew into a real war. Our coverage of these events was certainly green at times and maudlin at others. The opinion pages, in particular, grew crowded with debate about the war and American foreign policy.

When the spring semester opened, that debate continued in earnest. The government department sponsored a February panel that examined the media’s coverage of the attacks and the American response. Fred Exoo, John Collins and Karl Schonberg all shared memorable perspectives. Student sentiment against the war on terror began to grow and fully blossomed in the 2002-2003 year.

Vigorous conversation about the attacks and the American response went on to define a decade and a generation. Some Laurentians were called to national service while others gave themselves to activism. We should be glad of both.

As a journalist, Sept. 11 has been a constant. Over the last 10 years, I’ve had a hand in stories about troop deployments, peace vigils, soldiers’ funerals, charity events and tolerance. Even now, we at The Journal News are putting the finishing touches on a special section that includes vignettes about each of the 230 victims who had connections to Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.

It’s a story we’ll never stop covering.


One Response to “ESSAY | My Sept. 11”
  1. LS says:

    Good take.

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