by Havann Brown, editor-in-chief

Flags displayed outside of Northeast Ohio Medical University. Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all U.S. and Ohio flags be flown at half-staff at all public buildings and grounds throughout the state in honor of those killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by Havann Brown, editor-in-chief.

SEPTEMBER 2021 – Twenty years have passed since the attacks on September 11, 2001, an event that devastated the nation and forever changed the lives of many. Nearly 3,000 people were killed, and another 6,000 people were injured. Sept. 11 has become a great divider amongst generations, separating those who witnessed it from those who grew up during the aftermath.

The students of Bio-Med Science Academy were not alive on 9/11. However, Kadence Papantonakis, a sophomore, has a personal connection to that day: her mom, Trisha Shaffer Papantonakis.

“If the plane had crashed a couple of blocks over, my whole family would not be here. My siblings and I would not exist,” Papantonakis said. In 2001, her mom was attending college to study criminal justice and interning at the Pentagon.

“That morning she didn’t have breakfast so she went to ask someone to take her to get some food and that’s when she heard a big crash. Once the planes hit, everyone evacuated and no one was completely sure what happened until they saw the damage,” Papantonakis said when describing her mom’s experience.

Memories of that day remain vivid for many people 20 years later. Two Bio-Med teachers reflected on their whereabouts when they received the news of the attacks.

Mrs. Whitney Mihalik, the eleventh grade college, career, and civics teacher, was 13 years old on 9/11. “It was a week before my 14th birthday, and I was in third period honors social studies,” she said.

“My teacher told us to pay attention to what’s happening. So that was the first time I decided to pay attention to what was going on in the world because I didn’t know who Osma Bin-Laden was. I didn’t know where Afghanistan or Iraq was. But, after that, you didn’t have a choice – everyone knew,” she continued.

Mihalik stated, “After 9/11, everyone in America became super patriotic, which is a good thing. I think patriotism is fine but then that patriotism shifts into some scary nationalism, which I think we are seeing today. With that, comes a shift in what’s acceptable and what Americans should look like. This is my seventh year as a teacher and when teaching history, having that conversation is tricky because I have students and their parents who have opinions on what I should be teaching.”

Ms. Tracie McFerren, the sophomore English teacher, worked as the art director for Cleveland/Akron Family Magazine at the time. “The plane that ended up going down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania actually flew over Cleveland airspace,” she said. “There were rumors that there was also a suspicious plane at Cleveland Hopkins Airport that was being held or detained, so they evacuated everyone in downtown Cleveland… I remember driving home and thinking, ‘the world is never going to be the same again.’”

When asked if she felt students were becoming less aware of the effects the 9/11 attacks had on the United States, McFerren replied, “Students know about it, they’ve heard about it, they know what happened, and all of the basic facts, but it is hard to get across the feelings on that day. You can describe how you felt and what you saw, but it is hard to express to someone who didn’t experience the same moment of shock that we all felt.”

A steel beam from the World Trade Center is displayed as part of a 9/11 memorial outside of the Tallmadge Fire Department. Fragments of the Twin Towers were donated to police and fire departments to create memorials all across the United States. Photo provided by Ms. Jenna Bates.

Members of Generation Z, those born after 1996, have only hazy memories of the 9/11 attacks or learned about them secondhand.

Logan Hoskinson, a freshman, learned about the attacks in school. “I was in third grade in my social studies class when my teacher decided to talk about 9/11 finally, but they didn’t say very much. We watched three YouTube videos about it, and that was mainly it,” he said.

Senior Ian Ruehr stated, “If it came up in conversation in class, we would talk about it for a little bit, but it was never something that we really went out of our way to talk about.”

Growing up in a post-9/11 world meant developments like stricter airport security, extreme patriotism, or the U.S. war on terror have always been a reality for students.

Alex Hale-Hartman, a senior, felt that after the attacks, American ideals were imposed upon everyone, furthering Islamophobic sentiment. “When I read up on 9/11, I become very grossed out and disgusted by democracy spreaders who wanted to tear down other people’s way of living just because they thought ours was better, ” said Hale-Hartman. “People are extremely closed off to non-western points of view,” he remarked.

Ruehr stated, “When I was younger, I always heard about the Taliban and ISIS and all of the terrorist attacks. I have definitely grown, and my world views have improved, but those early years definitely set a groundwork that I’m still working to fix.”

9/11 was the defining moment for many individuals, impacting their hopes, fears, and futures. Both consciously and unconsciously, the events of 9/11 have shaped the way society is viewed, even for the younger generations that did not live through it.

One comment

  1. This is an incredibly well written article – the content was given real perspective on how the 20-year anniversary affects different people from different generations. It is a thoughtful and compelling article. Very well done considering it is an emotional topic for many people… even after 20 years. Great job!


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