Berkeley High teens sorting out emotions after attack

By Carole-Anne Elliott Special to the Daily Planet
Friday September 14, 2001

Two days after the worst terrorist attack to ever strike Americans, students at Berkeley High School were still working through their thoughts about how Tuesday’s events will change their lives. 

Like generations of Americans who look back to the Challenger explosion, the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor as pivotal events, today’s students have had television images of commercial airliners slicing into New York’s World Trade Center forever seared into their consciousness. 

“This is our war,” said sophomore class president Bradley Johnson.  

Though Berkeley High appeared very much as usual Thursday, with students filing to class and laughing with friends over lunch, Tuesday’s events were still on their minds. A memorial altar went up outside the Community Theater, where students could donate money, leave flowers and write their thoughts on huge sheets of paper. 

“The Gulf War wasn’t a big thing for us,” said Johnson. His generation was “too young, and it was ‘push-button.’ This is our first look at what terror is … We know now what it is to be afraid.” 

Freshman class president Lawrence Taylor said, “People were ignorant to the fact of what really happens out there and now, people will be opening up. Kids are going to start saying how it was great when we didn’t have to worry about this.” 

Freshman Geoff Shames is convinced “this country’s going to war.” Senior Vasya Fukson is bound for the U.S. Marine Corps after a recruiter called Tuesday to ask if he wanted to reconsider his decision not to enlist. 

Student Activities Director Christine Nyanda said some of her students have asked, “If the war happens today, are we going to perish?” 

The concerns on Tuesday were more immediate and being in school was rough, said sophomore Claudia Hernandez. “When you think about it, an airplane could fly really fast from there to here,” she said. “It was hard. You couldn’t concentrate because you (wondered), is anything else going to happen?”  

“A lot of people (were) thinking, ‘Are we going to have the Transamerica building bombed? The Golden Gate Bridge? The San Francisco financial district – will it be hit?’” Johnson said. 

Still other students seemed unfazed. 

“OK, it happened, but it can’t happen to me,” is how School Safety Officer Billy Keyes interpreted the reactions of some teens. “Because this is a television age and to a certain extent, it’s still television. 

“Visually, they’ve seen this before,” Keyes said. “That’s why I think the kids are handling it OK.” When they start hearing body counts, he said, “that’s when the kids’ll say, ‘Oh, this is serious.’” 

Most students in Joanna Sapir’s social studies classes haven’t shared their thoughts, she said, but some are coming around. “One talked about (the realization process being) slow for him – he only just realized there were people in the planes,’” she said. 

Others are further along. 

“I want to go to college in New York,” Hawkins said. “I want to travel the world and now it’s going to be so hard to travel anywhere.” 

“It’s terrifying,” she said. “It just really gets you thinking about what you want to do with your life … It’s going to be in everybody’s mind. It’s going to be something that we know for the rest of our lives.”