Fifteen years: On Scholastic magazine and September 11

Author: Tessa Bangs

Fifteen years: On Scholastic magazine and September 11

The basement of South Dining Hall holds many nooks and crannies, housing groups as diverse as dining services offices and print media archives. In one of these corners is Scholastic Magazine, where the very act of walking in affords visitors a trip down memory lane: The blank walls of the offices are plastered over with the covers of every monthly issue going back roughly two decades.

Bob Franken, class of 1969, has been print media specialist for student affairs since Oct. 2000, overseeing production of Dome, Juggler and Scholastic. When asked about all that he has been a part of over those years, through the hundreds of issues he has seen printed, he will often recall the story of what happened just as production of the Sept. 14, 2001 issue of the magazine neared its end.

The stories of Scholastic’s all-nighter-heavy production weekends remain legend in this office long after respective staffs have left. The ultimate goal was to have the Thursday issue sent off on Tuesday night: Top editors are oftentimes in the offices until the sun comes up the next morning.

This specific Tuesday morning, back in 2001, was different. It was Sept. 11.

For the members of the Scholastic staff, at least, it was clear what they had to do. Scrapping much of the issue that they had spent production preparing and agreeing to publish the magazine one day late, the students, under Franken, came together, writing essays questioning the nature of terrorism, patriotism and community — in words and tones that remain relevant today.

Then-editor-in-chief Michael P. Griffin, class of 2002, recalled the complicated case of Bobby Sands: the Irish figure some regard as a hero and others a terrorist. A West Belfast memorial dedicated to him, in the wall murals famous of Irish collective memory, was adorned with the following words: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” Griffin went on to worry that if revenge were to be pursued by the American people, “the only sounds to be heard from our children’s mouths will be whimpers and screams.”

Kimberly Blackwell and Kristin Kramer pondered the place of America in and with the rest of the world, in pieces entitled, respectively, “End of the Innocence” and “Seeking to Comprehend.”

The staff promised to collect thoughts and musings from the Notre Dame community in advance of a memorial edition, to be published in two weeks’ time.

It has been 15 years.

The United States has entered and begun to exit two separate military conflicts. Terrorism has become technologically advanced in ways that few could have even considered on that fateful September day, and the world has continued to suffer from such blunt events. Social media has increased the empathy of the international community, as websites and media personas rush to embody the identity of whichever country suffered the latest tragedy; this coverage has also encouraged, almost forced, emotional desensitization. Countless countries have undergone attacks in these years — some reported on the whole world over, and some barely noted. The United States has not been immune to this pattern.

It has been 15 years since that day, when production in South Dining Hall’s Scholastic offices became negligible; when my hometown — 12 miles outside of Manhattan — became consumed with a terror that permeated the walls of my kindergarten classroom; when this campus came together in shock and, ultimately, prayer; and when this country dealt with the sudden realization that it had just lost nearly 3,000 of its members, leaving tragedy, grief, confusion and a growing sense of vulnerability in its wake.

As this anniversary has approached, stories were rekindled and wounds have resurfaced.

Walking into the Scholastic offices — which will move to Campus Crossroads next year, forcing the removal of all of those covers on their walls — puts visitors face to face with the Sept. 14, 2001 issue. “A Morning of Atrocity,” its cover reads: white text against an image of the South Quad flagpole.

Notre Dame’s students gathered in front of that very flagpole on Sept. 11, 2001, as classes were cancelled and coeds tried to figure out how to continue as a student body and as a people. Roughly 7,000 students, faculty and staff gathered on the green, according to Franken. “It was a very eerie day, with no one knowing if there would be more attacks, students from the East Coast worried about their families and the Basilica's funeral bell tolling constantly,” he says.  

Sunday morning, there will again be a student-government-led remembrance in that very spot.

In an odd twist of fate, I will not be there. Due to the traditional late starts of the United Kingdom university system, for the first time in three years, I will be back home, in the New York metropolitan area, for this anniversary, as I prepare to study abroad for a semester at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. There, I will prepare to write my senior thesis in American Studies, on a topic I have long felt that I need to explore: how the tri-state area managed to put itself back together following Sept. 11.

There is now a beautiful and modern memorial and museum at Ground Zero, honoring that day’s heroes and lost loved ones — though I have not yet brought myself to visit. The buildings are rising up along this hallowed ground: One World Trade Center’s observation deck boasts views of all of New York; soon, seven buildings will together form the rebuilt World Trade Center site. Planes once again fly overhead: to and from the region’s three major international airports.

Twelve miles west and built on a mountain, my town overlooks New York City, the sight that countless commuters see as they get onto buses and trains every morning to head into work. I was five years old on that Tuesday morning, and I can still feel the panic that made its way even into the elementary schools, that surrounded every neighborhood and gripped us all as families waited for mothers and fathers to make it home that night. Nine people from my town never did.

On Sunday morning, Notre Dame will remember the fallen under the watchful leadership of Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C. — guiding the university’s students just as he did as president 15 years ago.

But for me, I’ll be back home, looking at my skyline: with the art installation “Tribute in Light” — 88 tower-like blue beams of light — filling the empty space where the Twin Towers used to be, shining tall and shining bright.