My experience as a new college student with the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

Jarrod Schoenecker,

I am in my first month of college at Minnesota State University Moorhead as a theatre arts technical emphasis major. My first class of the day is “Acting I,” a base course for any theatre major.

My professor is Dr. David Wheeler, who is a bright and bubbly figure — never mad, never sad, never negative. I get up around 8 a.m. and turn on the TV for a bit quietly as my roommate was still sleeping. I figure it is time to get ready for class so I waddle down to the showers on our floor with my bucket of items, my flip-flops clunking along the way.

As I return back from my shave and shower, I enter the room and it appears that my roommate has turned on a movie, a rather realistic-looking movie. I said something to him but he was sound asleep yet.

In my quest for knowing what this movie was, I hit the info button and it displayed the news that I had on. I was like, “Huh?” I changed the channel and no matter which channel I went to it was there. A plane had hit the World Trade Center in real life.

I shook my roommate and awoke him saying, “You have to see this. A plane — like a big plane — hit the World Trade Center in New York!” He was a little delirious and didn’t immediately comprehend what I said so I repeated myself and changed through channels to show him it was on every station.

Within minutes, the buzz was around our floor and around campus…around the nation. People up and down the halls started opening their doors and talking with one another, visiting each others’ dorm rooms.

As we all watch, suddenly, live on air, another plane hits the other tower shortly after 9 a.m. Gasps come from the halls and all around. The talk quickly goes from it possibly being an accident to we must be under attack.

The footage coming in is gravitating. It’s unlike anything any of us have ever seen. The first and then the second building. The chaos that ensued. Flumes of smoke from the buildings and emergency responders everywhere with people going away from the buildings but looking back at it.

It’s time for acting class. I head to class, which is in the building no more than 30 feet away from my dorm. The school’s televisions are all playing it. For some, they talk, for others, it is silence, for some it was crying. I remember asking some of those crying, “Do you know someone in the buildings or that could have been on the flights?” The answer was inevitably no. I remember thinking to myself that if you cry, you are letting terrorists do their job — incite fear in us.

Arriving at Acting I, I am not greeted with the bubbly Dr. Wheeler I am accustomed to. He politely tells us all that classes have been cancelled for the day and that counselors are available if anyone needs one.

We all retreat, most of us back to our dorm rooms and common areas of the dorms that had televisions, to watch events as they unfold. As soon as I return to my dorm room, a plane hits the Pentagon shortly after 9:35 a.m.

The tension in the air is one of unity and somewhat other worldly. What does this all mean? What happens next? Will there be a war on home turf — was this just the start? Will I be drafted? What other cities will they hit? Chicago? Los Angeles? Minneapolis? Dallas? Fargo-Moorhead? We seemed pretty low on the list but what if a country is attacking us and starts bombing? Grand Forks Air Force Base is less than 100 miles away.

There was no other topic of conversation than what was unfolding live. Everyone glued to repeating video coming in and every bit of new information and video that could be found. At one point, news reporters started showing images of people who had broken windows above where the planes had hit to escape smoke, heat and hopefully survive. Many individuals started jumping from the upper floors to their death below.

In disbelief, one of the towers from the World Trade Center collapses. People are seen running from the scene frantically. Questions remain on what will happen with the other tower. About a half hour later, the other tower collapses as well.

President George W. Bush orders all commercial flights grounded and for military to shoot down any planes that are not. The evolving scene lends question to what this will mean for the country. There are talks of possible long-term gas shortages and the nation goes out to fill up, including me. At a time when gas was less than $1.50, prices quickly increased to $4- 9.00 a gallon.

I vividly recall sitting in line at a local gas station in Moorhead for more than 45 minutes to fill up my tank. I was not scared of a long-term shortage but I was concerned that if everyone fills up now and stations are empty that I may not be able to get gas in the next day or two to get to work when my car was almost on empty.

Thoughts seemed to race through everyone’s mind. Being drafted was a real thought. By evening, people I had met who were in the Army National Guard were already being talked to about being ready to be deployed. In the days to follow, some of them were called to active duty. Some of them spoke about it in fear, citing, “I just did it for the free college tuition.”

Most of the rest of my day was a blur of just being in the moment, with other students around me and watching the footage and information coming in. I am sure I called relatives and friends back home as well to compare how things were where they were as well as what they were doing when things happened.

It’s one of only a few times in recent history, in my lifetime, where things stood still for me and I knew I was watching international history write itself. People were afraid to travel after that. It was surreal. It is a feeling I can’t describe holistically. Things changed when 9/11 happened. We suddenly were not under this false facade of being this untouchable country anymore.


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