It was a picture perfect fall day. It was sunny in New York City, sunny in Washington D.C. and on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, there were clear blue skies in eastern Iowa, too.
University President Mary Sue Coleman, then the president of the University of Iowa, was behind the wheel of her car when she first heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
In an e-mail to The Michigan Daily, Coleman wrote that she was driving to Fairfield, Iowa — about 65 miles from the University of Iowa’s Iowa City campus — to meet with a group of high school teachers about preparing their students to attend Iowa.
“The teachers were very intent on talking to me and did not want to interrupt the session, so we kept working for about an hour,” Coleman wrote. “Of course, at that time none of us knew what really had occurred. As I left the building, the principal stopped me and reported that something terrible had happened. I rushed to the car and listened to NPR all the way back to Iowa City, horrified by what was unfolding.”
Coleman related how she knew she needed to be with students to reassure the university community.
“The rest of the day was nightmarish,” Coleman wrote. “My first concern was our students, who were distraught. It really felt like the world as we knew it was ending.”
That evening, the University of Iowa held a vigil on the Pentacrest — Iowa’s equivalent to the Diag — and residence halls held meetings so students could share their feelings about the day.
“It gave students a shared place to express their emotions and be close to others,” Coleman wrote. “A sense of community was extremely important. I will never forget that terrible day.”