It was second period when I found out. Our chorale teacher, Mr. Shafer, mentioned that he was skipping a few of his announcements, and I was wondering why when he turned on ABC for all 97 of us to watch. Our smiles and laughter quickly faded to solemn, silent expressions last Tuesday as we found out the news: two hijacked planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.
At around 9:45, another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. When the clock on the back wall read 10 a.m., we witnessed a live feed from New York as the South Tower collapsed into a heap of dust and debris. "I felt like I was watching a scene from a movie," said Christine George, a junior at Clarence. "I couldn't believe what was happening. It was so unreal."
"When I first heard, I thought it was a joke," added Andy Rein, another Clarence junior. "When my teachers turned on the TV, I was in shock and disbelief."
Students' and teachers remained glued to CNN and other news stations and soon enough, the second World Trade Center tower collapsed into a gray cloud of oblivion. Many teachers abandoned their lesson plans to allow students to keep updated on the events as the unfathomable terrorist catastrophe continued.
Clarence students were allowed to rush to phones -- no questions asked -- to try to contact relatives, and some returned in tears. For many, no information was available. "My aunt and uncle live in Manhattan, and I couldn't find out about them until after school," recalled Shannon Kahabka, 16. "Luckily, they were OK, but I was really worried."
Those who weren't personally affected by the tragedy feared that Western New York could be a possible target for future terrorist attacks.
Prayer sessions and moments of silence were held at many schools to think of the victims and their families. "We held a special moment of silence on Wednesday, and the whole week we were reminded to respect each others' differences and not to discriminate in this time of mourning," said Lauren Zaklikowski, a Frontier junior.
At most area schools, after-school activities were canceled and students were kept inside for safety. At Amherst High, "We were in lockdown the whole day," said sophomore Katie Weissman. "There were no junior/senior privileges or eating in the courtyard."
At Clarence, we weren't allowed to go outside during the change of classes.
Some teachers chose to continue with their lessons, feeling students had been exposed to enough. In my AP American History class, we took our scheduled test, as behind us, a muted TV showed that an unforgettable event in American history was unfolding before our very eyes.
Having never experienced a war or such attack, it is understandable that area teens are frightened. "I think that most teens are in shock. I know I am," admitted Lauren Lewis, a junior from Clarence. "I never thought that something like this would happen, and that it would take so many lives."
"Our country is vulnerable. This is a new era in history," said Elizabeth Gruber, a senior at Mount St. Mary's.
For many local teens, this means a new sense of patriotism that hasn't yet been needed in their lives.
"I thought I used to be patriotic but now I am tens times more so," said Laura King, a Clarence junior. These feelings can already be seen by the droves of people lining up to donate blood. Teens have to be 17 and a certain weight to do so, but those who can are contributing. So many people have turned out to help that some are even being turned away.
The mood was quite different in the Middle East, where Palestinians danced and partied in the streets at the news. "I've been to Europe and other countries before, and I know that not many people outside North America like the United States and its citizens, but how could somebody intentionally kill so many innocent people?" asked Rein.
Unfortunately, some animosity is building up here as well. Nate Spengler, an East Aurora junior, reports overhearing a classmate say, "It's about time to turn the Middle East into a parking lot," followed by a chorus of agreement. It seems that a world filled with violence is perpetuating ardent hatred for those across the ocean -- whether they were involved or not.
Adam Syty, a Clarence junior, added: "I'm now afraid of the mentality this disaster has instated in some of us. Not that of revenge against the instigator, but of against a culture of people who were no way associated with the causing of the disaster."
The attacks on New York and Washington have shocked us all. "People are trying too hard to make comparisons to this event," said Gruber, commenting on the comparisons made by journalists and broadcasters to the attack on Pearl Harbor. "This was an attack on innocent civilians in two of the most prominent cities in the world, killing who knows how many -- quite a different situation."
Looking at a photo I took from the top of the Empire State Building last summer, I realize that I no longer hold a correct representation of the Manhattan skyline. So much more than that is different now, and for the rest of our lives, teens everywhere will remember Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as the day that everything changed.
Amanda Pendolino is a junior at Clarence High School.
Other teens react to Tuesday's tragedy:
From a little after 9 until around noon, almost all televisions in the classrooms were turned to CBS. Jeremy O'Laughlin, a junior, was at the World Trade Center a month ago. "After being in it and being at the top of it, I just couldn't believe that a structure like it could collapse in the amount of time that it did."
Melody Fura, another student, said: "I saw both towers crumble live on TV and I thank God that I wasn't there... My sympathy goes out to those who lost family and friends in the attack."
A Starpoint teacher, Laura Mullaney, has a younger sister, Barbara Beasock, who was in New York for a meeting at the Marriott Financial Center two blocks from the World Trade Center. As soon as Ms. Mullaney heard of the attacks, she rushed to the lounge to call her sister and was relieved to find her sister was OK.
Beasock (who returned to Buffalo after 12 hours on the train) said she got out of the Marriott after the first attack and had walked four to five blocks north by the time the second tower was struck. As she saw the first tower start to crumble, she thought: "What about the people? The people who were not lucky enough to get out of the buildings ... I look at my life now in a totally different perspective."
-- Jason Torreano
"When I first saw the two towers attacked on TV in my AP European History Class, I was convinced it was unreal. Somehow the sight of such horrific damage couldn't and wouldn't sink into my mind as being true. As I walked through the halls, rumors spread progressively throughout the day, like the Capitol had been bombed...even the White House had been attacked. It wasn't until my U.S. History class, four periods later, that the truth arose, about the twin towers, the Pentagon and the plane crash near Pittsburgh. What really riled up my emotions was my teacher telling us, 'Life after this will never be the same.' I feel great sorrow for the families that are affected but also a sense of national pride from the way the president, policemen, firemen and all other rescue workers, and the nation as a whole has pulled together in this time of need."
-- Lauren Zaklikowski
TEENS OFFER HELP
At Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, "We held prayer services in the chapel during all three lunch periods," said the principal, Sister Edith Wyss. Students are considering donating money raised from their annual Walkathon to the American Red Cross or another disaster relief organization, she added.
At Cheektowaga Central, a group of students organized a collection of blankets and canned goods, said assistant principal Gretchen Sukdolak. Tuesday afternoon, they raised more than $200 they would like to donate to the Red Cross to aid families downstate, she added.
Students at City Honors in Buffalo are planning a yellow ribbon campaign and collection drive to help New York City victims, said Principal Cathy Battaglia.
-- Gabrielle Grubka