Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series exploring local reaction to last year’s terrorist attacks. Look for part II in tomorrow’s Daily Planet.
Shahaub Roudbari, who graduated from Berkeley High School this summer, got word of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks before he arrived at school that day. But it took some time for the news to settle.
“The mood, at first, was curiosity,” he said. “It took a long time for it to dawn on people what actually happened.”
For Oliver Meyer, who also graduated in June, the news hit suddenly with an announcement in physics class.
“People didn’t know what to say,” Meyer noted. “The teacher was almost crying.”
With the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania arriving Wednesday, Berkeley’s school community is reflecting on the horrors of last September and planning to commemorate the attacks this week.
Activities will range from the traditional moment of silence to a special first grade art project at Malcolm X Arts & Academic Magnet School. Students, according to Principal Cheryl Chinn, will build lanterns, attach messages of peace and float them on Lake Merritt in Oakland during a peace march Tuesday evening.
This sort of approach strikes a chord in a city long associated with the peace movement.
“I think it would be great to see this as an opportunity for kids to bring peace to the world,” said Cynthia Papermaster, parent of a Berkeley High student and Board of Education candidate, describing her hopes for the district’s commemoration.
Peace was a concern for some students in the immediate aftermath of the attacks last year. On Oct. 17, members of a group called Students Halt Revenge and War Under Bush, or SHRUB, held a small anti-war rally in Civic Center Park.
Then-sophomore Mollie Dutton Starbuck read a letter to President George W. Bush that said, in part, “The terrorists want holy war, and that is what you want to give them. Holy war, an oxymoron from the oxiest of morons: you.”
Students also raised concerns about racial profiling of Middle Eastern students in the wake of the attacks. Members of two youth groups, Cultural Unity and Youth Together held a series of workshops on the topic in late September.
In the classroom, according to Berkeley High art teacher Sally Woolfer, the terrorist attacks came out in students’ work.
“We had a lot of amazing art,” she said. “That was a great outlet.”
But students interviewed Friday said that, after an initial burst of activity, the issue faded into the background quickly.
“It didn’t come up too often,” said Sean Dugar, who graduated from Berkeley High this summer and is making a run for the Board of Education this November.
Joan Edelstein, president of the Berkeley High School Parent Teacher Student Association, said she was surprised by the lack of engagement on campus last year.
“We’d hope to see more of an active response among our kids,” she said. “It’s a little disconcerting.”
Board President Shirley Issel said Berkeley’s geographic distance from Ground Zero may have played a role.
“We’re very far away from New York City,” said Issel, who is a psychotherapist. “We’re really protected from the impact of 9/11.”
She said that sense of distance may explain why the board, which will meet Wednesday night on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, has no grand commemoration planned.
“I think our need to do something on the anniversary is not as great as it is for those who are closer to Ground Zero,” she said.
Still, Issel predicted in a Friday interview, members will have something solemn to say about the terrorist attacks Wednesday night – just one day after first graders from Malcolm X Elementary are scheduled to push small missives of hope across a lake in Oakland.