For the 2001 freshman class, the
excitement of college quickly gave way to the grim tragedy of the
terrorist attacks that unfolded at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon
and in the skies over Shanksville, Penn. And for many of this
year’s class of graduating seniors, the first memory of
college became the image of 30,000 members of the campus community
holding lighted candles against the night sky of a suddenly
Sept. 11 was a disaster that left many students feeling
powerless. This year marks a new passage in the lives of these
young adults as for the first time, through their vote, students
have power over their nation’s future.
“It’s the first time we can vote in a presidential
election. 9/11 was probably the most major event in our lifetime.
You feel motivated to take a stand and elect who you think will do
the best job,” LSA senior Allie McGonagle said.
For seniors who experienced the tragedy of Sept. 11 in their
first weeks of school, this election is one of utmost importance.
Michigan Student Assembly Vice President Jennifer Nathan is among
“I feel our class of 2005 is the most affected by it. We
were the first class whose whole college experience is in the wake
of Sept. 11 with (wars in) Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t know
how people are going to vote, but I do know they’re going
to,” Nathan said.
The tragedy remains one dramatic event that cemented together a
generation. Nathan said she remembers the initial campus unity to
mourn the more than 3,000 victims of the tragedy.
But Students Allied for Freedom and Equality chair Carmel Salhi
said although unity existed after Sept. 11, through the ferocity of
the upcoming presidential elections, the tragedy has become
politicized and eroded the symbolism it once had.
“I think there was more unity after Sept. 11, but Sept. 11
didn’t occur in an election year and it has been three years
since it happened. So the unity in time of crisis faded as in any
A division in the making
So what happened to move this generation of students from near
unanimity right after Sept. 11 to a nation evenly split between the
two political parties?
The answer is a long and varied one, as two subsequent wars,
numerous policy decisions and political candidates have entered the
fray. Most agree that the division among people is due in large
part to the upcoming heated election
“Defending America should not be a partisan issue;
however, people have different views of just how to keep America
safe, so the revival of partisanship in American politics is
natural,” said Scott Foley, chairman of Students for
Bush’s response to Sept. 11 and his announcement of a
doctrine designed to make the world more safe for Americans has
been a major issue among voters — with some giving him a
failing grade on protection.
State Rep. Julie Dennis (D-Muskegon) believes that instead of
getting other nations to look up to the United States, Bush got
them to view us as occupiers. “Bush has done nothing to keep
us safe. He has made the climate worse.”
Foley has a different opinion. He does not think the attack
altered the Republican’s strength in foreign policy, only its
application of force.
“The GOP has always been strong on national defense, but
it is now clear that in order to combat terrorism effectively, the
United States must take a more pre-emptive stance.”
State Rep. Daniel Acciavatti (R-Chesterfield) said because of
Sept. 11, homeland security is the top issue of this election.
“Sept. 11 evolved into the reality that terrorists want to
kill us,” he said.
Policy differences aside, even the tone of the presidential
campaign has been a point of contention, specifically what place
Sept. 11 should have in the race.
“President Bush has a right to use 9/11 as a good example
of good leadership,” said Matt Forgotson, spokesman for the
College Democrats’ Kerry Leadership Team. “My greatest
fear remains that the administration will use 9/11 to scare the
American people into re-electing him,” Forgotson said.
James Dickson, an editorial board member of the conservative
campus journal the Michigan Review, says Republicans should talk
about Sept. 11 if for no other reason than there might be another
“They have to talk about it — if it happens again,
it’ll be their fault,” Dickson said.
“That’s what this election is going to be about. That
becomes part of the metrics.”
Paul Teske, a Business School senior and editorial board member
of the Michigan Review, thinks Republicans have benefited, albeit
indirectly, from the attacks.
“I wouldn’t say that the Republican Party (has
benefited) as a direct result of 9/11. The biggest change is that
national security has been the most important issue dealt with on
the national level, and I think rightly so,” Teske said.
While politicians constantly grapple with Sept. 11, some
students feel it’s time to move on.
Moving on while looking back
LSA junior Thomas Jonsson remembers performing the Sept. 11
tribute two years ago during the University’s football game
against Notre Dame. “We played ‘God Bless
America’ along with the visiting band. The whole stadium
would be quiet and the band players were crying when they were
playing the music,” he said.
Yet there will be no tribute show during this weekend’s
football game. Jonsson says the band thinks it’s time to stop
dwelling on the tragedy. “I didn’t know anyone there,
in the towers. But if someone close to me passed away there, even
then, the grief has to stop at some point.”
But even though some students emphasize moving on, they say that
politicians have been trying to evoke the emotions of Sept. 11 as a
political device in the wake of the impending election.
“It’s almost become a political stunt. It
doesn’t seem like a tragedy,” said Law student
Moreover, Huynh wishes more people would look at why the tragedy
occurred rather than only accept that it happened. “We have
all this patriotism, but we don’t see the flaws in our
country. Until we deduce 9/11 and view it as a lesson, then can we
LSA sophomore Jeffrey Isaacson had similar remarks and said,
“We can’t spend the rest of our time trying to seek
revenge on those who did it. At a certain point we have to say
there are other problems we need to focus on. But with the Bush
administration it is difficult to move on again, thanks to all the
Still, some students don’t want Sept. 11 to become a
fleeting memory. LSA sophomore Sayem Islam said that for him, the
memory of the tragedy has not faded with time.
“A lot of people would say that it’s being
overplayed, especially by the Muslim community. But why
wouldn’t it be overplayed? I’m from New York, by the
way, and I actually heard and saw the Twin Towers go down. And if I
were commander-in-chief of this country, definitely, how can you
not overplay it? Especially when you don’t know who’s
behind it at that time. Thousands of civilians lost their
lives,” Islam said.
Regardless of whether or not people feel they can move on from
the event, the emotions of Sept. 11 will stay with this generation
long into the future. And as they enter the voting booth this fall,
those students who experienced the power of 30,000 candles will
always carry the memory of being united, however briefly, with
students across the political spectrum.