Posted by Julia Leef
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, students at Skidmore College woke up to attend class, beginning a normal day alongside most Americans across the country. That normalcy was short lived, however, and 10 years later students can remember the moment that the United States, and the world at large, was forever reshaped.
In the minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 collided with WTC 1 many students were not immediately aware of the full extent of the attack. Holly Leber '02, who served as the features editor for The Skidmore News at the time and is currently a columnist and reporter for the Life section at Times Free Press in Chattanooga, Tennessee, remembers that it was a few hours before she understood what had happened in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.
"I had a seminar first thing in the morning. When I left the dorm I noticed a crowd of people glued to the TV, but didn't think much of it." Only after she had listened to a voicemail message from her cousin, asking if she had been able to reach her parents, did she turned on the television to see the news for herself.
Meanwhile Keith Kirshner '02, who now lives in Atlanta, had just started his term as SGA president. "I was leaving my house going to a marketing class that morning. One of my friends was home in Brooklyn; his dad was running in a local election, and he called us after he had just seen the first plane hit."
Without the stream of online information so readily available today, it was a while before Kirshner and many other students were able to learn more about what was happening.
In that window of confusion and miscommunication, members of the Skidmore community were desperate to hear from family and friends who worked at the towers. "It was a constant struggle for all of us to get in contact with these people," said Frank Won ‘02, who now works as an Optometrist in Yonkers, New York. "People couldn't get a hold of other people that they knew, and of course if you couldn't get a hold of the person for whom you feared the worst."
Accurate information proved equally elusive. Some students, like Justin Graeber '02, now a journalist at the Duxbury Clipper in Massachusetts, tried to gather as much information as possible.
"In the aftermath of the attacks, I just could not get enough news. I really became an Internet news junkie that day," he said. "This was just such a shocking event that everybody needed to know what was going on."
Although classes were not officially cancelled, many students did not attend and several professors cancelled. Holly Leber recalls going to an English class in which one of the students stood up and said, "We shouldn't be here." Justin Graeber recalls that many students felt angry that school had not been cancelled that day.
In the Spa, television screens ran the latest news from the towers, Washington and Pennsylvania. Lauren Yanuzzi '04 says that she felt dazed when she first found out.
"As I walked to Case Center alone to check my mail I thought about how relatively close my hometown was to NYC, that I had been in the towers several times, and how so many of my friends' parents commuted to the city. A lot of the people around me seemed dazed too. As though it was too big of a concept to fit in our heads at the moment. This was death we were staring at."
Kirshner spent a lot of time with then-president Jamienne Studley trying to figure out which students had family at the World Trade Center. "Once things had settled down," he added, "we needed to do something, so we organized an all-campus meeting."
This gathering was hosted on the Case green at 4 p.m., during which Studley, Kirshner, and Campus Safety Director Dennis Conway, tried to reassure people and inform them of the resources at hand, such as the Counseling Center, Health Services, and religious services.
"I don't know if there was anyone on campus who didn't go to that meeting," Kirshner said. "It was really just a sense of community, during a terrible but historic day."
Conway, who had just started working at the college in January of that year, remembers getting a call from an officer at the front desk who had heard the news on the radio. "One of the first things I did was rush to my computer; my biggest concern and fear was of how many people were in those buildings."
Soon after, Conway met with members of the administration to discuss how best to address the students. "We knew that we had a lot of our students from the New York and Metropolitan area," he said, adding that students were instructed not to tie up communication lines so as to leave them open for police forces.
Campus Safety also worked with local state and law enforcement, delivering a heightened sense of awareness to the college. "We brought in extra officers to make sure that we had a presence on the campus." As these officers entered Saratoga, certain student volunteer firefighters entered New York City to provide help at Ground Zero.
In the days after the attacks, Leber observed the people passing by her window. "There were certain students who were just sort of out and wandering around. Some of them looked almost envious of those who were providing some service or writing about it. I was so grateful to have something that occupied my time, some obligation."
Several students on campus lost family members and friends that day in September. One former student who suffered a loss was Kirk A. Cassels '02, who lost his close friend Tyler Ugolyn '01, of Columbia College. Ugolyn was working on the 93rd floor of the North Tower as a research associate for Fred Alger Management, Inc.
Cassels, who now works at Dartmouth College as a multimedia specialist at the office of public affairs, was serving as the editor-in-chief of The Skidmore News at the time. Shortly following the event, the staff gathered together for the next two days to print an issue centered on the events of 9/11, which in 2002 won the Associated Collegiate Press Award for special coverage.
In the aftermath Cassels found a lot of support in his immediate group of friends, as well as people he had never even met before. This to him was the only thing that allowed for a quick recovery. "Move on, but do not forget. This is our Pearl Harbor," he said, "our JFK assassination. This is our generational moment."
The attacks on 9/11 affected the entire campus, and left their imprint on each and every student. "The one thing that made that day so different from any other kind of tragedy or sad news," said Graeber, "was that it was something just so raw, so shocking that you couldn't imagine what to do with yourself."
Students who wish to mark the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 on campus may attend two events being held on Sunday: a half-hour memorial observance at the Wilson Chapel at 5 p.m., and a documentary screening of "Beyond Belief" from 9:30-11 p.m. in Davis Auditorium.