One of my volunteer positions is gallery guide for the Tribute Center. I am also a docent for the Tribute Center which involves leading walking tours of the National September 11 Memorial in New York. As a gallery guide I have the privilege of speaking to school groups that visit the center. I believe strongly “in telling the next generation”. I love every opportunity to speak with young people. Telling the story of September 11 to children and teens can be “tricky”. Those children and teens who are now in fifth to 12 grade don’t really have their own memories of that day. How could they? The teens who graduate from High School this year were only 7 years old in 2001. The current fifth grade class were babies. That is part of the reason the Tribute Center is so passion about telling the stories. We lived it but after 10 years it can become a dot on the timeline of history unless educators teach their students. I have had students make me smile as they tell me what they know about 9/11. Note: I always say September 11 not 9/11. Anyway. I had a fourth grader tell me “there were tourists who hijacked 6 planes”. Close they were terrorists – we want to be tourist but we don’t want to be terrorists and there were 4 planes. The one thing I try to avoid mentioning is that people jumped from the buildings. But some child always asked “did people really jump” and I try to discuss that in an age appropriate way. It is an amazing experience speaking to the children and teens. And I love it. But this past week for the first time I had a group that had no clue where they were. I guess the teachers didn’t inform them of where they were going or they didn’t listen. I don’t know but there was a moment when I realized the being young and clueless does not give you a licence to disrespect. So I sucker punched them. I started with the ” Okay, We are just going for it. My husband was one of the 343 firefighters that was killed on September 11 and my daughters were your age then. And Tracy her 24-year-old son was murdered when terrorist flew commercial jetliners into buildings right across the street from here. And this didn’t happen in 1776, 1820, 1860 or 19 whatever it happened in 2001 and you were alive then and you need to know and understand this because someday your children are going to ask you what happen here . Okay, now breathe.” I can’t say I felt bad for sucker punching them. I can say that it was the moment that I truly understood that the stories of September 11 are that important and they have to be told.
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