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October 22, 2003:
Princeton and September 11, Two Years Later

by Ashley Johnson '05

Two years ago, the members of the Class of 2005 arrived on campus exhausted from Outdoor Action, anxious about meeting new roommates, and excited at the transformation their lives would soon take. They attended the standard meetings dictating dorm etiquette, drinking regulations, and scheduling how-tos. They met advisers, signed up for clubs, and began adjusting to the late night hours that college life inevitably requires.

On the morning of September 11, another fully scheduled day in the freshman handbook, the world around them changed. Suddenly, the distance home seemed to grow as individual miles were felt in the midst of cell phone outages, displaced loved ones, and a desire for a norm. The presentation of Diversity on Campus was replaced with a memorial service.

President Tilghman spoke, offering condolences to those hurting, comfort to those questioning, and a refusal to be defeated to those who could do nothing but listen. She promised the campus would move on, not out of disrespect to the victims, but out of a conviction to fell the terrorists in their attempts to inactivate Americans.

This September, the University remembered the second anniversary of the tragedy through a variety of discussions, dedications, and lectures. The Princeton Committee Against Terrorism hosted the "Patriotic Commemoration of America's Fallen," an outdoor service featuring professors of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs Frederick Hitz '61 and Jack Matlock. The Woodrow Wilson school also held a panel discussion entitled "Two Years After 9/11: How Far Have We Come?" moderated by Anne-Marie Slaughter '80, dean of the school and a specialist in foreign policy issues and international law.

In addition to the speakers and the discussions, students found personal outlets for their grief, memories, and questions. A memorial garden was dedicated honoring the 13 Princeton alumni lost that day. The Chapel held two prayer services in which students, Princeton residents, and Frist Campus Center workers drifted in individually and passed their lunch hours in personal reflection under the soft music.

The Office of Religious Life, University Health Services, and the PACE Center offered a "lunch and reflection" entitled "9/11 Were You There?" The originally planned lunch break stretched on for two hours as students shared stories of lost loved ones, unanswered phone calls, and home lives that have been changed forever. They spoke of the aftereffects, the paranoia, denial, and fear felt each time CNN breaks a story in New York City. What began as a memorial developed into group therapy as the 20 hurting students and faculty found comfort in their shared trials.

Despite the number of ceremonies offered around campus, life continued normally this September 11. That same morning, classes began. Upperclassmen filed out to lunch on the decks of their eating clubs. Freshman and sophomores hunted advisers and textbooks. Faculty lead lectures as usual. Several sororities declined to throw parties, but more from fear of disrespect to those remembering than actually remembering themselves.

Two years ago, President Tilghman promised that life would go on at this University. Since then, two more classes have shared in the scheduling rigors of Freshmen Week. Two more classes have graduated into alumni status. In between, the inner world of Princeton's undergraduate life is teeming with bicker, course selection, and community service. Students and faculty have honored President Tilghman's request, moving forward in exploration and experimentation. Life has indeed gone on for Princeton, but not so fast as to neglect reflection on the times that have propelled us to reach the ground where we now stand.

You can reach Ashley Johnson at ajohnson@princeton.edu