Monday, September 12, 2011

Princeton; 10 years later (Sept. 11, 2001)

[Part 3 of a series of blog entries looking at the first year of my life spent in Princeton, West Virginia, in 2001. I'll look at my home life, school, pop culture, relationships, basically everything going on in my life one decade ago. Click here to read part 1. Click here to read part 2.]

I moved to Princeton in 2001. A lot of important things happened that year for me, which is one reason why we've been reflecting on the tenth anniversary of it. I moved to a new area, had a lot of changes in my life, and it sticks out in my head when thinking back on my life. One reason that the year 2001 sticks out for a lot of people, myself included, is because it was the year of the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The question everybody asks - where were you September 11, 2001? Well, the latest installment of "Princeton; 10 years later" will look at where I was that fateful day. We'll go a lot more in-depth with being in the tenth grade and things of that nature later. Some of the names that will be briefly mentioned here will get more attention in future posts.

One of the biggest problems that plagued me throughout high school was starting high school in Ravenswood, which used the "period" system and then going to Princeton, which used the "block" scheduling system.

In the ninth grade, I had eight classes that lasted an hour. They were for half a credit. You would have certain core classes - math, English, science - all year. Two semesters at half a credit would equal one credit. Some minor classes - health and gym, specifically - you would take one semester in the ninth grade and another semester in the tenth grade. Half a credit your ninth grade year and half a credit your tenth grade year added up to your required one credit of gym to graduate.

In Princeton, the tenth grade was under the block scheduling, which was four classes a day that lasted something like an hour and 30 minutes. Your gym class would only be one semester in the tenth grade and would count for one full credit.

The problem then, was that I took health and gym in the ninth grade and only had half a credit. So, I had to take them both when I got to Princeton for one full credit. As a result, I was the only tenth grade student in health class at Princeton that year.

One of the things you had to do in health class was "job shadowing," where you went someplace and watched the people work. It was supposed to have something to do with your career. Before we could do that, though, we had to do some sort of stupid full day of workshops in various classrooms. This was scheduled for Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

We were supposed to report to our first block class and then an announcement for all ninth graders (and me) to leave would come over the intercom. First block was the newspaper class. That day we were heading over to the computer lab to learn something about advertisements. Ironic, of course, that the guy in charge of advertisements on the newspaper staff, me, would not be there.

Everybody in the class had these folders that we kept in the classroom. We'd put our stories and whatever other shit we accumulated and that somehow turned into our grade. For this assignment, we were to bring our folders with us. Since I was leaving, I didn't bring mine. Mrs. Slavey, the newspaper advisor, was unusually on edge that day. I saw her snap at a student for something I thought was minor. When we got to the lab, she saw that I had brought nothing with me. It was the first - and only - time she ever had any sort of unpleasant tone with me: "Where’s your folder?" she angrily asked. "I'm leaving in a few minutes, so I, uh, didn't, uh, think, I, uh..." She remembered the workshop thing I had to do and apologized.

Off I went to the workshops. I honestly couldn't tell you what they were about. All I remember was that they were stupid and I didn't like them. We were broken up into groups of 15-20 or so and I knew a girl I rode the bus with, Tonya, so I sat next to her at each workshop.

Before one of them, a girl walks in and casually announces, "A plane just hit the World Trade Center." I processed that in my head. I knew the name "World Trade Center." I knew it was located in New York. Other than that, I couldn't have told you what it looked like. So, I had no visual for what was happening. It's ironic, then, for me, since that has turned into one of the most iconic images of all time.

In addition to the workshops, that is also the day that the ninth graders (and me) got their identification card pictures taken. I don't really know why we needed them. They were supposed to be scanned for getting lunch and maybe other stuff, I don't know. I never used mine. I was wearing a dark green shirt on September 11, 2001. And one of those necklaces that's a bunch of metal balls. Do those necklaces have a specific name?

The workshops took up the first half of the day. Lunch and third block (geography) were uneventful. Fourth block was Science with Mr. Ball. During class, a voice came over the intercom saying that if we wanted to listen to radio coverage of the plane crash we could keep the intercom on. Either Mr. Ball hadn’t been keeping up with the news or he just didn't want to listen to it, he got really perturbed and said, "Why would we listen to that?" and then went back to the lesson.

I got home and that's when the magnitude of what had happened hit me. I walked into the living room to see my mom watching the news. That's when I first saw the images of the towers falling down, of people running down the streets, of smoke and dust filling the air. I don't remember how long we sat there and watched, but after a while she got up and I was by myself. I watched for a while before I started changing the channel. A lot of the networks had a blank screen with some message about how they had suspended their programming for the time being. Like the Food Network and TV Land, non-essential networks at that time, weren't airing any programming. MTV was showing footage from CBS News, as both were owned by the same parent company.

The next day at school we had an assembly. I don't remember much about it, other than we all did the Pledge of Allegiance together. It was a crazy couple days after that. Like the hard-hitting journalists we were, the newspaper staff quickly switched gears and focused our first issue on 9/11.

In a move that will always perplex me, I was given the assignment to write the staff editorial. For those unfamiliar, that is the piece on the opinion section that is anonymous and serves as the official opinion of the newspaper. I guess because I was in charge of organizing the advertisements and whatnot and everybody else was writing more than me, I was selected to do it. I don't really know.

I initially felt overwhelmed by it. This was a really important piece for the paper and I was - at least in my eyes - the least-experienced person on the staff. I was the only tenth grader; everybody else was in eleventh or twelfth grade. I had just moved; I didn't know anybody or anything about the area. And I was writing the consensus of the staff for this horrible tragedy.

The paper was coming out in late September. It had to be completed a day or two before that. For a couple weeks there, I just stared at an empty Microsoft Word screen trying to figure out what to do. I wrote a couple paragraphs at one point that I didn't like. I deleted those and was back to the drawing board.

Then, something happened for the first time in my life. An idea hit me, my fingers started typing, words started appearing on the computer screen. After a while I was finished and felt this odd sense of satisfaction that I've grown to become accustomed to over the years. It was the first time I ever wrote something and felt like it was amazing. I printed it out and showed it to Mrs. Slavey. She loved it. I was so proud of myself. It went into the paper and I got a lot of praise for it from people who knew that I wrote it.

After September 11, a sense of patriotism swept over America. Right after the attacks, it was real patriotism, not the fake kind that we have today when we reflect on 9/11. To raise funds for the newspaper, we had some shirts printed at a discount and sold them for something ridiculous, like $15 or something. Since we were the Princeton Tigers, the front featured a muscular-looking Tiger waving an American flag. The back read "Proud to be an American with Tiger Pride." It's just as cheesy as it sounds, but at the time that's how we felt.

I don't remember how many of those I sold, but was close to a shitload. The key to sales is to be energetic and charismatic. I used to be both of those when I was younger and was very good at unloading those shirts. The Principal, Mr. White, saw me in action and told Mrs. Slavey that he liked my enthusiasm.

A somewhat light-hearted moment came about due to the terrorist attacks. I was in charge of advertisements for the newspaper and I had to call a company about their ad. It was pretty plain and I needed to see if they had a logo or picture or anything. I was still a novice when it came to dealing with companies in matters like this, and I remember the conversation going something like this: "Hi. My name's Chris Slater. I'm with the Tiger Tribune, Princeton Senior High School's newspaper. I'm designing your ad that you bought. I was wondering if you had a logo or anything for your ad? ... No? Okay. Do you care if I put an American flag in your ad? Okay. Thank you." And so I put a flag in their ad. It looked pretty good. And by "pretty good," I mean it looked like a 15-year-old with limited Photoshop experience put it together.

That's the brunt of my memories from September 11, 2001, and the days following. Might check back in with more at some point.

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