UNITED STATES—It is really hard to fathom that it has been 17 years, since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It was a day that forever charged the United States of America as we know it. For so many Americans, you can vividly recall where you were the moment you learned about two planes crashing into the World Trade Center buildings. The speculation started running rampant as soon as the incident transpired, as we later learned that the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden.

It was a day that will forever live in infamy as thousands of lives were lost, a nation was shattered and the notion of terrorism struck America hearts in a way that you can never imagine. I remember being in a mathematics class as a junior and while working on an assignment, our teacher stopped the chatter and turned on the TV. Yes, we had a television in our classroom, but it was never used. So for that to transpire, I immediately knew something was up.

We’re watching the news, and we’re watching footage of the World Trade Centers in New York City. One of the buildings is on fire and smoke is billowing out. Out of nowhere, a plane collides into the other building and horror erupted in the classroom. As teenagers, we had no idea and I mean no idea what was transpiring. Our teacher immediately turned off the TV and the speculation in the classroom ran rampant. Moments later, the principal came on the PA system and alerted all students to that class was dismissed and to immediately leave the school and head directly home.

Panic sets in, we have no idea what in the world is going on, rushing home many of us suspected that the country might be under attack. I get home to turn on the TV to find out what is going on, the nation was indeed under attack. Terrorists hijacked several planes and two of those planes collided into the World Trade Center buildings. Another plane was aimed to collide into The White House, but that was diverted by heroes on that plan that took the terrorists out. Another plane was aimed at the Pentagon.

September 11, 2001 changed this country forever because our notion that we were always safe was thrown out the air. Going to the airport was forever changed with heightened security checks and the assurance that certain items were NOT ALLOWED to be brought on the plane. Prejudices and stereotypes started to emerge for those who had similar features as the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks. The culture of America completely changed as the result of September 11. How we view others changed? How we view other countries, the countless heroes who sacrificed their lives to save so many others. Hundreds of paramedics, firefighters, police officers, everyday people, including children died on that terrifying day.

For reasons I cannot fathom, I still feel that so many Americans forget what transpired until we are reminded of it. We shouldn’t have to, yes life goes on, but September 11, 2001 is not like any other day. It was a day that America was under attack, and it’s not just about appreciating life, it’s about honoring all those lives of those people who were killed in those attacks, and those who died trying to save others.

It has been heralded as a day of service, but I feel like each anniversary should be a day of remembrance; not forgetting about those innocent lives that were lost, and those who sacrificed their own lives to save those in need. I will never and I mean never forget watching the collapse of both World Trade Center buildings. I cannot even fathom the fear of those inside the building knowing that their final moments were upon them. I don’t want to feel that fear; I don’t think any American wants to endure such fear or horror for family members who were trapped inside that building.

So this is me reaching out to ask that question where were you on September 11, 2001? How has your life changed since that fateful day? How do you pay tribute to those who died and those heroes who worked tirelessly to rescue those trapped or in need of help? The one thing I recall the most about 9/11 is the unity it brought to this country; we are stronger together than apart. We proved we will not allow terrorism, fear or terrorists to dismantle our country; not then and not ever.

Written By Kelsey Thomas