SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 11, 2013

Stacey: High school seniors remember Sept. 11 ... when they were in kindergarten

Phil Stacey
The Salem News

---- — They were just 5 years old and knew something was wrong ... but had no idea what.

That was a dozen years ago today, when the high school seniors of today from across the North Shore were in kindergarten. They were, by and large, unaware of the events that were changing their country — and the world as we knew it — forever.

September 11, 2001. A day that will never, ever be forgotten by those of us who heard the news or watched the horrific events unfold that morning.

But what about those who were too young to know what exactly was happening?

Their journey as schoolchildren was literally just beginning, the kindergartners of 2001-02, on that dark day a dozen years ago. They may have sensed something was amiss, but wouldn’t have had an idea exactly what that was.

Now, as high school seniors, they have an acute sense of what they were unable to fathom.

Kate Lipka was two weeks shy of her sixth birthday and just starting school at St. John’s Elementary School in Peabody when the announcements came over the school’s intercom.

“As a kindergartner I had no idea what was going on,” said Lipka, now a senior at Bishop Fenwick and one of the best volleyball players on the North Shore. “But you saw panic in people’s faces, and that was certainly scary.

“I remember everyone being sent home from school, and when I got home with my parents they were both watching TV intently. It was kind of nerve-racking, seeing these people you love so concerned and knowing something was wrong.”

Drew Fossa was also in kindergarten at St. Mary’s in Beverly but was going half-days, and his session was in the afternoon.

“I remember waking up that morning and saw the (Twin Towers) burning on TV, but didn’t realize what it was about,” said Fossa, now a 17-year-old cross country star at Peabody High. “I remember it being strange seeing that. And my parents didn’t say what happened, obviously; that would’ve made me scared.

“It’s weird that I remember that, because I don’t recall much from when I was that young. But I knew that something wasn’t right.”

Salem High soccer standout Alix Bryant doesn’t remember a thing about the day itself. That’s probably just as well, she said, since she has certainly read up on and learned all about the horrors of that September morning since.

“It’s absolutely scary to think that happened and I had no idea,” Bryant admitted. “You get older and might get used to hearing about wars in other countries or awful things happening elsewhere, but for that to have happened on American soil when I was a youngster ... it’s hard to imagine that actually happened and people had to suffer that extreme a fate.”

Connor Irving might have had a bit more insight than others his age. The current Beverly High hockey captain recalls hearing about it at the Cove Elementary School, and parents and teachers talking about it in the days that followed, but he was unable to process what was happening.

But it certainly affected him at home; his mother, Eileen Owens, worked at Logan Airport.

“It changed the world completely with all the security, especially flying. Everyone lives with that fear now,” he said.

As the years passed and those kindergartners got older, the events of that day came into sharper focus. They first would take a moment of silence with their classmates each year to observe the anniversary, then started talking about the planes crashing in history class, reading about the survivors and their stories, and watching videos, documentaries and programs dedicated to the events.

Irving has done a lot of research on 9/11, and while he didn’t understand the implications at the time he most certainly does now. “The whole thing makes me mad when I think about it, because I don’t get how people can do that to innocent people,” said Irving.

Our planet — and our lives — have changed immeasurably in the last dozen years. We’re not talking social media, electric cars and World Series titles won by the Red Sox; we’re talking heightened security, acute awareness of one’s surroundings and wondering: can you ever really be safe?

“At this point, where I live and go to school I feel as safe as I could possibly be,” said Lipka, a Peabody resident. “But I agree that our teachers and our parents and what we hear on the news, per se, have helped us see what this world can really be like and how we can best handle it. They’re preparing our generation to one day lead this country.”

“I think my generation has that awareness,” added Bryant. “How you treat people, how you receive information ... you want to be more cautious.”

Fossa chooses to remain positive, believing what happened 12 years ago has ultimately made America safer.

“The sense of awareness is so much higher than it ever was,” he said. “I think a lot of things happen behind the scenes and get stopped that we never hear about — and that’s a good thing. It’s great that more people don’t get hurt.”

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Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com or at 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.