It was a perfect morning, not a cloud in the sky. There was a slight crispness in the air as fall was fast approaching. I walked from my dorm room in Miles Hall on Virginia Tech campus to my class in Norris Hall, coffee in hand. As I went up the stairs, turned the corner, and walked into my classroom, everything changed. This was my Research Methods class and the television was never on, but this time it was. The screen showed smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center in New York City. I sat down as more students entered the room, each one staring at the TV while they found a desk.
I remember everyone’s confusion about what was happening. Then the unthinkable, we watched as the second plane hit the other tower. Gasps of shock spread throughout the room. What many had thought could have been an accident was now a confirmed act of terrorism. Never before had our country seen the events that unfolded occur on American soil.
This day is indelibly etched in my mind. There will be random triggers that bring back the flood of details of what this day means for our nation. Our fragility was exposed as we watched helplessly these two skyscrapers crumble to the ground. For days stories of bravery were recounted. Replayed voicemails and last phone calls with family and loved ones were shared. In our moment of weakness, our strength and unity were revealed.
I have previously completed the 9/11 stair climb on the anniversary of this tragedy. Hundreds of people climbed the stairs at the Suntrust tower in downtown Richmond to commemorate the journey hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and emergency response professionals trekked to save the lives of anyone they could. They had incredible bravery to walk up more than 100 flights of stairs in the face of complete uncertainty to save a stranger's life.
As I walked up the 110 flights of stairs wearing full firefighter gear, I had pinned to the straps of my oxygen tank a badge honoring the life of Thomas Kuveikis, NYC Firefighter in Squad 252. In each step, I became closer to finishing, yet Thomas unknowingly came closer to his death. That is what today means to me and many others. While we watched the events unfold on television, many faced uncertainty. Their bravery and courage should motivate us today, to put others first, to look after one another, and to embrace the now.
As we reflect on what occurred on this day nineteen years ago, we remember the courage, bravery, and honor those that died this day. Many families lost loved ones. Others had missed or canceled meetings or missed flights that saved their lives. But for the 2,977 people that lost their lives on this day, we will Never Forget.