737 Days After…
September 17, 2003
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September 11, 2001, started off as a very special day for me. I left Tallahassee on a state plane early in the morning to greet President George W. Bush, who was scheduled to arrive in Sarasota at 9 a.m. to visit Emma Booker Elementary School. As Lieutenant Governor, I led the delegation that was welcoming the President, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and their entourage to Florida’s west coast. President Bush’s visit was prompted by his long-time interest in reading as a basic tool of learning; the school he was to visit had introduced a very successful new approach to reading, called direct instruction, and the President wanted to hear more about it. The highlight of the morning was to be when first graders would read aloud to him.
The welcoming party assembled at the school as Air Force One was setting down at the local airport. The presidential party arrived at exactly 9 o’clock, and President Bush went down the receiving line, shaking hands and exchanging a few words with everyone. I have known President Bush for some time, and it was good to see him again. As I was chatting with the President, an aide carrying a cellphone called him aside, saying he had a call from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The President stepped away from our group and spoke quietly into the phone for a minute or two. When he returned, he said he had just learned that a plane had collided with one of the towers of the World Trade Center. While this was terrible news, there was no hint of the magnitude of what was happening, so nobody was unduly alarmed.
We all moved to a holding room near the classroom and then into the classroom itself, where 25 to 30 students and their teacher were waiting for us. Standing at the back of the classroom, pressed against the wall, was the entire international press corps that travels with the President. President Bush, Secretary Paige and I took our places at the front of the classroom, and the reading demonstration began. After about 10 minutes, Andrew Card, the President’s chief of staff, came into the room and whispered something into the President’s ear. This time, we sensed that something was terribly wrong. The children kept on reading, and the President and his aides moved back to the holding area, where we learned that the United States was under attack by terrorists.
The Secret Service tried to get the President to return to Air Force One immediately, but he refused, saying he was committed to staying on the ground long enough to write a statement about what was happening, read it to the nation and lead a moment of silence for the victims. I stood next to him as he wrote out a statement by hand on a legal pad, using a Sharpie pen. We then moved on to the school’s media center, where about 200 students, parents and teachers were waiting for us. The President read his statement and it was disseminated worldwide almost instantly by the international press corps, which had followed us into the media center. He then called for a moment of silence for the dead and dying. At the conclusion of that solemn moment, he turned to me and said, “I’d like you to take over now, because I’m going to have to leave.” Then he shook my hand and left.
I turned to the children, telling them how important America is in the world and how important they are to America. As soon as the program was over, Governor Bush called, asking if everyone was all right and telling me to be back in Tallahassee by 3 o’clock for a live press conference. I soon discovered that the state plane I had flown in that morning would not be taking me home, as all planes in the country had been grounded. The only option was to go by car, which I did, with a big assist from the Florida Highway Patrol. We made the 5 – hour trip in about two hours, with sirens screaming all the way, arriving at the press conference about a minute before it started. I stayed in the Emergency Operations Center for the rest of that day and night, keeping in touch with people all over the state to make sure all of our agencies continued functioning.
Besides my memories, I have three mementos of the experiences I had on 9/11: a photograph of me with the President, our heads bowed in prayer; a photograph of me with the Governor at the press conference in Tallahassee; and a letter from the President thanking me for the help I was privileged to provide on that tragic day.
— Frank T. Brogan, President
On September 11, I was in class on the Boca Raton Campus. When we first heard of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center, my professor at the time, Dr. Beoku-Betts, attempted to pick up the news on a TV that was in the classroom. We were unable to get a clear reception at the time, and not knowing what took place, I initially thought that there might have been a calculation error on behalf of a pilot.
Once the true reasons behind the two crashes into the towers were evident, my emotions were melancholy and fearful. I was fearful of the way that the people across the US might react to this tragedy and associate the actions of a few ignorant individuals with a group of people — especially a group of people with whom I have close ties and in which I have loved ones. That day, as I sat at home, eyes glued to CSPAN, my heart and mind longed for an answer to the simplest but most important question, “What”? What could possibly have been done to a man to make him hunger for mass destruction and death?
And then, a more important question arose that asked the same question of “What?” What can I do to help a nation move forward, to not look for retaliation, but to look for a way of communicating to the people the importance of peace, unity and embracing diversity? Then it hit me… Don’t speak with my words, but instead with the one element that speaks louder than anything — my actions.
— Ancel Pratt III, Student Body President
On September 11, our nation and the world were attacked. Freedom and peace were challenged in the blink of an eye. The very essence, foundation, and strength of a free and caring society were tested. The attacks of 9/11 brought us sorrow and pain. The aftermath brought us together. In the days, weeks, and months following the tragic attacks, the caring nature and strong will of our people became evident.
People from all walks of life came together after the attacks. Millions of people joined together and stood tall in the face of terrorism and those who attempted to instill fear in our lives. Fear was the sole intended result of the 9/11 attacks, and we must defend freedom by living our lives without fear. The unity and strength that helped us cope with this tragedy became and remains alive on our campuses. Students from every corner of the earth joined in unison to aid one another. As we remember those whose lives were taken, we also commemorate our unity and commitment to peace and freedom.
On the Boca Raton Campus, our remembrances for what happened that tragic day and our celebration of peace and freedom are symbolized in a Tree of Life. The Tree of Life, located in front of the Wimberly Library on the Boca campus, was dedicated one year ago on the first anniversary of September 11th.
— Michael Moore, Student Body Governor, Boca campus