Unexpected Learning from 9/11

Bates Complex at SSU, where I lived for 2 years
Image from SSU Website

Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve learned something until after the fact. Sometimes LONG after the fact. There are going to be plenty of 9/11 posts today, but as I took a walk on campus during lunch, I reflected back to this day 11 years ago when I was in my 4th year of undergrad at Salem State.

I hadn’t yet left for class when I found out, and my roommate came back early from her class to confirm that yes, this was happening and school was cancelled. I, like many others on campus, holed up in my room, alternating between the news and more light-hearted television when the news became too much to deal with. I was living in Bates Complex,  the upper-classmen apartments, and remember going up to the kitchen at one point & looking out the window into the courtyard. It was eerily empty, even for noon on a Tuesday. Then, a door across from me opened and a student walked out–he was dressed in fatigues and carried a bag on his back; the bag looked full.

As I wandered campus today, I wondered how many of the students I passed would have been doing the same exact thing if they had been students then. It’s a rare day around here when I don’t see at least one student wearing a military uniform, and those are probably not the (hundreds? thousands?) here who are, like the lone student at SSC back in the day, in the Guard and not as visible.  Then I began to wonder about how many students my colleagues and I are seeing today who have been directly affected by what happened. Did that student from 11 years ago ever return? If not, was it because he dropped out, or did he not return from wherever he was sent? Or was he so deeply damaged physically or mentally that he couldn’t return to his studies? If he did return: was he just lucky enough to not be shipped out? did he lose any buddies who weren’t as lucky? The questions are endless.

If I really want to pursue Academic Advising, I need to learn more about this population of students, to understand why that image continues to feature so prominently in my memory of the day. I have begun to understand why the need for specific Military & Veteran Affairs departments or personnel on campuses is so great. if my questions are innumerable, how many questions do Veteran students have?

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