By Blair Stephens
A decade is a long time. But for many of the people who survived the September 11 attacks, it seems even longer. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when the plane hit the first tower of the World Trade Center. We all remember the shock that swept the nation. But some members of the Baylor community have stories that can only come from firsthand experience of the tragedy in New York or Washington, D.C.
Ten years ago, on September 18, 2001, the Baylor Alumni Association sent out an e-mail to twelve hundred Baylor alumni near the affected areas.
The subject line said, “Are you okay?” The e-mail went on to say, in part, “You have probably been receiving calls or e-mails from any number of friends and family checking to see if you are all right. Would you take a moment to respond to this letter and let us know how you’re doing, too?”
Within a week, more than five hundred responses came in. The last response, sent in October, brought the total near eight hundred.
Many of these responses were compiled into a story for the Baylor Line, and others were used in the Between the Lines newsletter.
So ten years later, where are these people? What are they doing? Are they “okay”?
We wanted to answer these questions. So coming full circle, the Baylor Alumni Association sent an e-mail to some of those original responders. We asked about their life and the state of the cities ten years later.
Dianne Binford ’81, who worked for Nine West Group in White Plains, New York, said, “I don’t know of anyone here in New York or elsewhere who does not believe that life is forever changed. We are more tolerant of increased security, bonded by shared experience, appreciative of first responders and heroes, a little more in tune with the horror our soldiers endure for our sake, and generally a more cautious people than ever before.”
Melissa Lewis Immel ’90, who worked at the United Nations, said “My life is rather different from ten years ago. Right after 9/11, I evaluated my life like many people did. Within twelve months of 9/11, I broke up with my boyfriend, had some career counseling and eventually moved to Southern California. Within three weeks of moving, I met my husband, and now we have two kids and live in Florida. It’s a very different lifestyle from being single in New York!”
Change was a common theme for many survivors, Immel said. “It was not uncommon to bump into people the year after 9/11 and find out they were in the process of making major life changes,” she said. “People changed jobs, moved out of the city, started non-profits, pursued dreams, etc. It seemed 9/11 was a wake-up call for us.”
Dianne Binford’s memories are still alive and as vivid as they were ten years ago. Scenes she still remember include, “The deep sense of connection as I drove down Boston Post Road the next evening along a mile-long stretch of a human rope of people holding hands all up and down that road…and the sound of relentless rain a couple nights later, while you [thought] countless men and women were still trapped alive.”
Glenn Waldrip Jr. ’81, a partner in a New York City law firm, has similarly horrifying memories. “I will never forget looking out a window of my apartment on the morning of 9/11 and seeing a huge amount of dust climbing in the air above one of the towers when it fell. Shortly after, the same thing happened to the other tower. I had stayed home because the first plane hit right when I was walking out the door to go to the office. I watched the fires until the dust clouds rose and the fires and towers were gone.”
Pamela Berberich ’91, then a senior account executive, was located just blocks away from the towers. “My life changed significantly fourteen months ago when I had my little boy, Liam. My emotional response to what happened on 9/11 is now much more intense. I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of 140 high school students visiting New York City from Lake Travis High School in Austin (invited by my sorority sister, Angela Grider-McComb) about 9/11, prior to their tour of Ground Zero, and I broke down in the middle of my talk. It was the first time I’d done that while speaking about my experience. I can only attribute that to the fact that I have a child now whom I love so much. Having a child definitely changes your perspective on life!”
Berberich still works in New York City and takes the commuter train each day. “We see armed military personnel and bomb-sniffing dogs on a fairly regular basis; we have a regular heightened awareness of everything around us. Despite all that, the atmosphere doesn’t feel especially tense. I guess this is just the new normal.”
For Berberich, 9/11 is a day of mourning for the lives lost. “Kids need to be taught that the wonderful freedom we have in America is not free,” she said. “We have to fight for it and protect it every day.”