New Trier reflects on 20 years since September 11 attacks

On the 20th anniversary, first hand accounts and archives describe what it was like at the school


Said Aydin

Front page of the New Trier News newspaper on September 28, 2001

Exactly 20 years ago, two commercial planes flew into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and one destined for the Capitol taken down by passengers in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. 

After the attack, students and staff reacted to and coped with this disaster. Yet, in annual 9/11 talks, classes rarely go in depth on how people felt at the time: their emotions, reactions, and their actions to support victims and our country. 

Because of the lack of smart phones at the time, students were updated mostly by word of mouth. Even websites, which were limited at the time, had little available information and were very slow to update. At the time, people were given little information and left to wonder what was happening while having to go on with their days.

“I went in and you could still check out AV equipment out of the back of the library and I literally walked around with a radio, a boom box,” said social studies teacher and veteran Todd Maxman. “We were listening to NPR because we really couldn’t get outside internet connectivity; there were only a couple places in the building that had cable TV.”

This lack of information also brewed disbelief and shock among students. Many students and parents who worked downtown ended up going home out of worry for their families. It wasn’t until that afternoon and the following days that all the details of the event were revealed to the public.

“So they [students] were definitely anxious, wanting information, but I think they also felt, at least that year on that campus a certain sense of, this was something that they were going to be able to understand because they have some background into at least the region and its history,” said social studies teacher Carolyn Gerhardt, who was at the school during 9/11.

Below are some of these accounts of students expressed in a photo opinion article in the New Trier News on Sept. 28, 2001. Students and teachers were asked their thoughts on the events of September 11. Here is what they had to say.

Math teacher Robert Rowe, who was in the military at the time, at first was ready to defend his country. He had already served four years of active duty and was in his last four years of inactive service when the attacks happened. In fact, Rowe received his discharge papers on September 12, 2001, a day after 9/11.

“My first reaction was, ‘Give me a rifle and let’s go’ because that’s what you’re trained to do; you’re trained to fight, we were attacked. And then the other part of me was like, ‘Okay, I’m in a different part of my life, so it’s somebody else’s turn,’” said Rowe.

Teachers and students were lacked any updates during the day because of the escalating situation and attending classes simultaneously.

“Dr. Hayes was walking in the hallway and I was standing at the door and between first and second period he just said, ‘An airplane went into the World Trade Center’ and I laughed and I assumed he was joking and he had to assure me, ‘No, no, it really happened’ and so I spent the next period just like wondering what was going on,” said Gerhardt.

Even though it’s been 20 years, personal accounts of the event are still pristine because of the impact and how it changed people’s lives. In an article written in September 2018 in the New Trier News, dance and health teacher Laura Deutsch recalled what she was doing at the time.

“I was at the park with my kids, and I came late to school that day. There were TV monitors everywhere. I remember sitting with a senior and watching live footage. I told him, ‘You will remember this for the rest of your life, and this will be part of your history,’” Deutsch said.

As events after 9/11 progressed, like the invasions of Middle Eastern countries, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and bigotry against Arab Americans also increased. In remembrance of 9/11, we must remember and take care of all the lives affected by 9/11: lives lost that day, lives of first responders, lives of American troops, lives of innocents caught in the crossfire of the war against terror, and lives of those harassed for something they were not involved with. 

Additionally, students and staff held many events to raise awareness and money in the following months. Student Alliance turned the annual Homecoming Parade into a Walk-A-Thon with floats and decorations; the Blood Drive was promoted to help victims recovering in Washington and New York; and the event “Dancing In The Streets” was turned into a fundraiser, raising over $4,000. 

“I’m amazed, as I always have been, at the generosity [of students]. In the past, whatever the goal was, New Trier students exceeded it. The values in the community have taught the kids that charity is important. We know how to give and share,” said Roger Garfield, student activities coordinator during 9/11, in a 2001 article written by the New Trier News.