Archived Opinion

Connecting a new generation to 9/11

op 911Recently, a group of Waynesville Middle chorus students were at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, and when they tried to sing the national anthem, they were stopped mid-song by a security guard who told them they needed a permit to perform. Before beginning the song, they had received verbal permission from a different security guard.

The mixed messages were confusing to the students who were excited to sing in remembrance of the tragic events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. When asked to stop singing, the adolescents politely complied and walked off the premises. Later they had many questions for their parents and their chorus teacher. 

As you’ve probably seen and heard, the story was picked up by several national news outlets, and the students were given an opportunity to finish the song on Fox & Friends, a morning show on Fox News. I was a little worried that Fox News was going to use this situation for political persuasion. With it being a rather turbulent election season, I was wary that the students would get caught up in some type of controversial patriotic vs. unpatriotic debate. 

Luckily, that didn’t happen with Fox News. It seems the network truly wanted to give the students a chance to finish singing the National Anthem in honor of the many courageous people who either lost their lives on that day or who are still struggling with the loss of someone they love. 

The WMS students who visited New York are approximately between the ages of 12 and 14. Even the oldest students in the group were not yet born on Sept. 11, 2001. 

In the fall of that year, I was a senior at N.C. State University and learned of the horror as I walked into the pizza joint where I waited tables. Sort of like with older generations who will always remember where they were when the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination became public, I feel like my generation remembers exactly where we were on Sept. 11 during those morning hours. 

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And I think that’s because we were all immersed in a hopeful, happy, easygoing season of life where anything seemed possible and the sky was the limit. 

For a lot of us, 9/11 was a reality check, a stark reminder that the world can be a cruel and horrible place. Then the days that followed showed us that there is so much good in the world. When we learned the stories of bravery and sacrifice by so many, it gave us hope in humanity. But it was a hope tinged with darkness. 

In my mind, the situation that occurred with the Waynesville Middle chorus may have happened for a reason. The chorus students and thousands of other adolescents have probably thought very little about Sept. 11, 2001, other than hearing their teachers and parents talk about it around the anniversary each year. 

The security guard interrupting the unassuming singers led to a series of events that allowed Sept. 11 back in the spotlight on a local and national level. Middle schoolers were again talking about the event in an active, curious way. 

The national anthem snafu gave these young students a chance to really think about that day, all it embodied and the physical, social and emotional effects that resulted.

Events like Sept. 11 not only need to be remembered and honored, but they also need to be understood. Understood by every generation, not just those who were alive in 2001. That day shouldn’t merely be something children read about in textbooks. It should be a living, breathing topic of conversation and not only a conversation about the when, what and how, but about the why.  

Initially, the Waynesville Middle students were attempting to remember and honor the fallen by singing the national anthem, but I hope when it was all said and done, they also understood more about that day. And they had an opportunity to reflect upon the invisible consequences, the conflicting emotions and cultural generalizations that have led to 15 years of trying to find a new normal for New York City and the country as a whole. 

(Susanna Barbee is a writer who lives in Haywood County. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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