The day it happened - right before it happened - high school junior Althea Miller sat in history class. The school year was still new, and they were reviewing their first assignment: a paper answering the question, what is history? The teacher then asked students to talk about what makes American history unique.
"One of the main things people were saying," Althea said, "was that we're so lucky that we haven't had much war, and how we're so well off being in this country. It's kind of weird that 10 minutes later we weren't."
Ten minutes later, Althea was in math class watching the events of Sept. 11 unfold on television.
Since that day, school has been a lot about that day. History and government classes focus on current events. Students clip newspaper and magazine articles as homework. But although those subjects lend themselves to discussion, what happened Sept. 11 and what has happened since are too big to be contained in a single class. It's a continual process of questioning and understanding and thinking about the future.
Maybe it's become a little too much.
After school on Tuesday, six high school students met with the Gazette to talk about just that. Not only their opinions about U.S. policy and politics, Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, but also their feelings. How six weeks after watching the trade towers collapse, yes, they are horrified and saddened and angry - but also a bit fed up. They are overwhelmed with information, and yet some still feel disconnected.
"When it happened, it was so unreal because we were on an Island, and nothing happens here. It's not like they're going to come bomb an Island with so few people on it. We're just out here, and we're not really connected to what's happening, except for the news," senior Lauraye White said.
"But it's our country," Althea said. "If something changes, it changes our whole country. Maybe it didn't affect us directly; maybe we didn't know anyone who died, but it's affecting us.
"Every class we have we talk about it," she said. "Even English, we go over vocab, and for every word there's one kid who somehow connects it back to what happened."
"We get updates in class," senior Laura Bennett said. She sat at a small table with fellow senior Jose Rodriguez. He had folded himself over and spread his arms on the table's surface.
"Sometimes you forget what class you're in cause it all overlaps," Althea said.
"I'm not even in a history or a government class right now," senior Julianne Piccus said from the far corner, where she sat with Lauraye. "And it doesn't matter. The teachers get going on these rants, and it's like, ‘What are you doing here?' "
They all laughed, and then abruptly quieted. Junior Emily Gray came into the room, and Althea shifted so she could share her seat. As she settled, the conversation turned to United States military action.
"I don't think we should be bombing as much as we are," Emily said immediately.
"Especially considering there's not all that much to bomb in Afghanistan," Laura said.
"I don't think they should bomb," Althea said, "but I understand why they are. They have to do something."
"What else should we do if we don't bomb?" Jose asked. He lifted his forearms, rested instead on his elbows with palms to the ceiling. "Six thousand people die and you're saying don't even bomb them? What else should we do?"
"So because they kill our innocent people, it's all right for us to go and kill theirs?" Emily said.
"Then again they had the option not to have attacked us," Laura said.
"I don't think it'd be that bad - that the bombing wouldn't be as bad if so many people, so many Americans didn't want it so badly," Julianne said. "Every American is so bloodthirsty right now; it's so sick."
"We're not acting upon reason right now," Emily said. "We're acting on how we feel, total anger."
"What are we supposed to do, sit around until everyone's stable?" Althea said.
"I think maybe if the country as a whole was trying to make decisions, you could say that, but the people who are actually doing it are trying to be reasonable," Laura said. "President Bush has his cabinet."
"It just makes me mad how everyone's reacting." Emily shook her head. "Almost everyone I've talked to, especially adults, everyone feels we should blow them up."
"I don't really want to think about it," Lauraye said. Her voice rose above the others in a loud monotone. "It's not something I want to think about. If we're not going to bomb them, what are we going to do, sit here and say, oh bin Laden, you don't have to hate us cause we're good people? What are we supposed to do about it?"
"I don't think anybody really even knows what they want and why they hate us so much. I think that's the biggest question that's around," Althea said. "There's so many different parts to it. We've been living over here and not giving much thought about what's going on over there." She paused. "In a way we put money before a lot of things, I guess. I don't really understand."
"That doesn't make us bad, though; that's just the way we live," Jose said. He straightened in his chair. "I don't think it's that they don't like us. It's that they're really poor there; so I think the message that bin Laden sends out is that it's an opportunity to become something if you do something to an American. It's a way to get further."
"We're not saying that they hate us and we hate them. It's between us all. It's not this country against that country. It's person against person, and every person has a different view of how they think people should be, and that's what's getting mixed up so much," Lauraye said. "Everybody has their own little perception of what people should be, and some try and make it that way, and bin Laden is one of those people."
Lauraye returned to the nonstop news updates: "Every channel you turn to, it's like Afghanistan, Afghanistan; they love us, they hate us, they bombed us. A month after even, it was nothing but that, and I don't want to hear about that anymore."
"The thing we hear about now is anthrax and stuff," Jose said. "If someone really wanted to have this whole biological war. . . ."
"They'd pick something that
wouldn't be something that's treatable with antibiotics. The only reason people have died is they just didn't realize they had anthrax," Laura said.
"They had nothing to talk about one day and so they talked about doctors who maybe were over-prescribing the anthrax antibiotics and I was like, this is what they are talking about?" Julianne said. "It was just ridiculous. Out of all the drugs and everything new that's happening and new technology, they're talking about doctors over-prescribing this and I was just like, ugh - just cause it had the title anthrax on it everybody tuned in."
"There's always new stuff happening, but all we hear about is anthrax," Emily said. "We're missing all this other stuff that's happening."
"It's just that for so long it was on every channel, and you couldn't get away from it," Jose said.
"But without television and without all these things we would have no idea what was going on," Althea said.
"Think about all the news that usually would be front page news and now it's a paragraph," Laura said.
Althea said that not only has the other news been put in relative perspective for her, but also the decisions that she must make: "Junior and senior year you start planning for college. You start really thinking about what your life is going to be like. I've started thinking about that more than ever, and now I'll think about this thing and my life, and I'm like, wait a second, what if," Althea said.
Julianne said: "I was going to join the army reserves; that was my plan to make it through college, to be in the reserves. It was set out and I told my parents and we debated it. . . . I talked to this guy about what I could raise, how much money doing this, services, where I would go. And at the very last second I was just like, I don't want to.
"It's not like I don't like this country, but I'm not ready really to die for it just yet."
"I also think that, at least I did, I never thought we would have to deal with anything like this," Emily said. "Every generation has to deal with their own war, and I guess this is kind of ours - but I never thought something like this would happen."
"I know, it was kind of implied that we were going to have a safe way through," Julianne said.