Never forgetting what an entire generation can’t remember


Colleen Hammond | News Editor

In the aftermath of the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the American people made a solemn promise to “never forget.” Now, 19 years later, the problem is not necessarily forgetting, but never remembering 9/11 altogether.

For the first time since the attacks, nearly every college student and recent graduate is too young to remember the event or were not born until after.

This has presented a new wave of challenges for recent Duquesne graduate Mikayla Gilmer as she begins her first year of teaching at Musselman High School in West Virginia.

Gilmer, who was four years old at the time of the attacks, has no memories of the event. She learned about 9/11 through a combination of documentaries, photos, social studies class and, most of all, first person narration.

“I remember teachers telling their personal stories,” Gilmer said. Gilmer now faces a world where she, as a teacher, cannot educate her students the same way.

Andrew Simpson, a professor of contemporary American history at Duquesne stated firsthand narration and personal stories “show that there was an impact of the event beyond the people there.”

Growing up, Gilmer recalled speaking about 9/11 annually in several classes and learned more factual details about the event as she reached middle school.

Now, as a high school English teacher, Gilmer admitted that she had not even thought about teaching or speaking about 9/11 with her students until this week. She said there are “so many huge events” happening in the world that it is easy to overlook the tragedy of the past — especially when she has no memory of it.

“It’s almost like we’re leaving 9/11 to history,” Gilmer said.

Given the new social context of COVID-19 and an ever-changing set of circumstances, Gilmer struggled to push 9/11 commem- oration to the forefront of her teaching this week.

“Kids are already learning so much new stuff and all the new COVID-19 procedures. They’re dealing with enough right now,” Gilmer said.

Since the attacks, many American news agencies and commentators have used 9/11 as a benchmark for how serious a situation is. Under the new guise of the pandemic, Gilmer thinks this could potentially change.

“I think it’s a new perspective for social studies teachers,” Gilmer said.

In addition, Simpson mentioned the slow evolution of how history is presented, taught, studied and perceived as different age groups and distinct generations receive it.

“History gets reassessed by future generations,” Simpson said.

Although neither Gilmer nor Simpson foresee 9/11 being ignored by educators of the future, they both noted how moving for- ward, new generations will likely perceive the event differently based on their own life experiences.

“Every generation has a traumatic event that shapes who they are,” Simpson said.

While there may not be wide consensus about what event that is in each generation, it is clear to Gilmer and Simpson that Generation Z has lived through a significant number of these events already.

“I fear that our generation is becoming desensitized to traumatic events given how often we experience them,” Gilmer said.

Despite the fears of densitizitation, Simpson has hope for students to gain perspective on 9/11 through first hand accounts and recorded images from the event.

“We live in a time and place where people have tremendous access to primary sources,” Simpson said.

With the advent of the internet in the post 9/11 world, nearly every classroom has the opportunity to access primary sources when teaching about the attacks. Simpson stated these accounts will become incredibly important as fewer teachers have their own personal memories of the event.

However, Simpson is certain of one thing.

“There’s still going to be a long memory of the event,” Simpson said.