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Emma Drake Essay


The day my cousin was born my grandma was taking a road trip. This may appear as somewhat of an oddity; as her daughter was having her first child, my grandma was driving across the country. To make the story stranger, as she drove fighter jets and military planes circled overhead. It would probably make more sense if I told you my cousin was born on September 12, 2001. My grandma was not road tripping to see America; she was road tripping to see her brand new grandchild in Maryland. The airports were shut down and the military planes were protecting our national capitol. The country was reeling in the aftermath of the event of the event that irreparably shook our nation’s security: 9/11.

It has always struck me how my cousin, Cecilia, was born into essentially a brand new American culture. With Cecilia, a source of happiness and light in my family, suddenly came confusion and terror and racism and war and increased security and fear. The culture of untouchable security that had been so American two days before was gone, and Cecilia was born into the vastly more complicated world with terrorism in the front of everyone’s mind, a world we are still very much a part of today.

Anyone old enough to remember 15 years ago almost without fail will say they remember exactly what they were doing when they heard about 9/11. My mom and I were driving to preschool, listening to the Bear in the Big Blue House soundtrack. Once I was dropped off she turned on NPR and listened as the course of American history changed forever. The contrast is striking: the ordinariness of my mom’s day, driving to school with the same annoying soundtrack, expecting to turn on NPR to another “Morning Edition” and instead finding the world in a state of panic. This day was the epitome of the unpredictability in which an ordinary day becomes unforgettable. For my aunt, however, 9/11 was already anything but ordinary. Along with the fear felt by any parent bringing a child into the world, my aunt now faced the terrifying question of what it meant to bring her child into a brand new America; how does one protect their child in an America that is not protected itself?

I wonder a lot about the generation of kids, myself included, who do not remember an America before 9/11. I wonder how the loss of a feeling of national security affects how we view the world and how we do, and will, make decisions about our country. I wonder how Cecilia and all of the other Cecilia’s will view foreign policy and what kind of presidential candidate she will look to support. I wonder about how much fear has shaped our childhoods and how the fear we have will shape our children.

I have this picture of 20th century America in my head, and in it I imagine my parents and grandparents growing up with a strong sense of American strength and even more so a sense of security and safety. America seemed untouchable; conflict took place, sure, but it was somewhere else and someone else. I imagine 20th century America as this bubble suddenly popped by 9/11; America is part of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world was and is not unexceptionally secure. Realizing this, Americans had to come to terms with the fact that terrorism was going to be a recognized part of our lives. Fifteen years later, terrorism is still prevalent in our minds, periodically amplified by another awful event in another city with another group of people by another organization. Our decisions are tinged by fear; from who we vote for to where we travel to how we treat people who are different from us.

For all the ways I worry about how only knowing a scared American culture has affected Cecilia and the rest of the post 9/11 babies, there is also a very specific beauty in the vulnerability of American society today. With the loss of untouchability came a sensitivity; we are all just people and we learned we had better stick together. 9/11 showed, excuse the cliché, the true resilience of the human and American spirit. Being faced by evil and terror, the American people banded together and stared back. As a nation we mourned the loss of the almost 3,000 people we lost and the America we knew before. As a nation we rebuilt and fought back and reevaluated our place and how we are viewed on a global scale.

I am proud that Cecilia is growing up in a culture that sticks together in the worst of times and identifies America with strength and perseverance. Despite a loss of total security, I hope Cecilia grows up knowing that American spirit could never be destroyed with a building or an airplane or a bomb. I want Cecilia to know that the American spirit is the American people and that we stand together and fight for one another and strive to be better than we were before.

Regardless, Cecilia’s life was irrevocably changed the day before it began. She will never grow up in an America without 9/11 and its effects on our lives. She will have a different view of the world and a different feeling of security. Terrorism will most likely continue to play a prevalent role in Cecilia’s life, staring at her from newspaper headlines and news stories blaring from televisions and radios. However, Cecilia will grow up knowing the grit of the American people and the ability to stand up stronger after being knocked down. America is tough, and this generation is, too.

Founder Patrick Anderson with First Place Essay Winner Emma Drake