Remembering 9/11: Twenty Years Later

The names on the 9/11 Memorial are etched into marble and our hearts. I touched the names and there was something. An echo or reverberation. Like the experience at the wall at the Vietnam Memorial. Tears. You see people grieving next to you and long to reach out to comfort them. Sometimes you do.

On 9/11, I was with Verizon in the Information Technology department on an early morning conference call. Someone suddenly shouted into the phone, “Get to a TV! A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” We dashed to the breakroom and watched in horror – stunned – as unbelievable events unfolded. We had colleagues in the Tower. Colleagues too at the Pentagon. Many more traveling; stranded around the world. It took days to account for everyone. Weeks even. Sadly, we lost three employees, two at the World Trade Center and one at the Pentagon.

We knew our headquarters, the 32-story Barclay-Vesey Building, was adjacent to the World Trade Center to the south and 7 World Trade Center to the east. Built in 1923 in the art deco style, this historic building contained underground vaults housing critical telecommunication infrastructure, as well as offices. The basement flooded and while the building suffered damage, its thick masonry design gave it added strength and was credited for why it still stood.

I remember waiting numbly for our assignments; we didn’t have to wait long. We couldn’t climb up while others climbed down. But we could assemble our teams the best we could among those who weren’t stranded or unaccounted for to do our part to help restore crucial telecommunication services. I remember feeling at the time that it didn’t feel like enough. But it was something to support those on the ground who were sacrificing so much and to honor the lives lost.

About a year after the attack, I visited the Twin Towers site – when it was a gaping hole in the ground and in our hearts – when the flowers, signs and tributes were still being paced along the fencing.

In 2017, I visited the 9/11 Memorial when it first opened. It is a contemplative place, built for remembering.  I did not know that the names of the 2,977 who died are grouped, not randomly or alphabetically, but according to a carefully thought-out plan to place them with those who they were with, or where they were, at the time.

Walking around the memorial, I read the story of the Survivor Tree and it lifted me up. A Callery pear tree somehow survived the devastation and was kept for replanting when the memorial was complete. Since 2013, the 9/11 Memorial has given seedlings from the Survivor Tree to communities that have endured tragedy. The thought of these small seedling remembrances – that sprout and thrive around the world – brings me still a bit of hope on this solemn day of remembering.


Diane White, MA, PMP, earned advanced degrees in information technologies from George Washington University and education from USF.  She has been managing projects for over 25 years in the information technology and telecommunications industries.  She joined OLLI-USF in 2008 and has taken OLLI courses in art, art appreciation, architecture, music, great books, science, nature, literature, and leadership.  She is a member of OLI’s Tech Squad, teaches a variety of technology courses, (She is an OLLI Roll of Honor Instructor) and is OLLI Connects’ technology contributor and consultant.

We normally publish OLLI Connects on Monday, but we thought publishing this post on the anniversary of the event would be more appropriate.  Our next issue will come out on September 20. –Editor


14 Replies to “Remembering 9/11: Twenty Years Later”

  1. Remembering that day is so heart wrenching….and unfortunately, the world is still, often times, a prejudiced, lonely and brutal place to be. We pray for understanding, peace and comfort to revitalize a world that sorely needs it.

    1. Thank you for reading the blog and your thoughts. I added the seed story because I believe the trees, as they grow, may establish some peaceful and comforting spaces to reflect.

  2. Beautiful. I worked for a defense contractor in the DC area. We thought the WTC events were unbelievable, but then when the Pentagon was hit, we could see the smoke from our offices. I had an employee who was unable to reach her brother in Brooklyn and just quit on the spot. Our client was INS, which became Homeland security. I could hardly eat or sleep for a week. I was NYC on the Empire State Building balcony some months later and the site of the WTC was still smoldering. I don’t watch many of the beautiful memorials because once the tears well, I can’t stop crying, perhaps because on 9/11 I had so much to do, I frankly had no time to grieve. Reminders aren’t needed. I can never forget. My prayers are always for the many victims 🙏🏻 💔 🇺🇸

  3. Thanks, Diane, for your touching memories and comments. I was airborne from Brussels that day and mine was one of many flights that were diverted to Canada I spent the rest of the week there enjoying the specific and generous hospitality of the Canadians, our neighbors to the north. As we do annually, my host and I were in touch with one another today to provide an update on ourselves and rekindle the touching experience of goodness and grace we shared.

    1. Thank you for sharing your touching story. The fact that you are still in touch with your host speaks to the generosity of the Canadian people and the profound impact 9/11 had, and still has, on so many people.

  4. Thank you Diane for your lovely piece. I was in Ghana on 9/11 teaching Liberian refugees bound for resettlement in the U.S. They came to me after class (it was 2 in the afternoon at the camp there) with outstretched hands giving me the tragic news. Today I did a 14-mile hike with a lovely group here in Boulder. We honored the day by sharing our memories and something positive. Before we set out.

  5. Thanks Diane for writing your lovely story to commemorate a day of extreme sadness, but also a day of extraordinary heroism of the first responders. My 97 year old Polish-born Dad who–together with Poland–had suffered horrors during WW II, called me to alert me about an attack on our adoptive Homeland–an attack we, the Americans, are not used to. . . .
    My first reaction was irrational: “There is no more safety in this land I had emigrated to in pursuit of peace and freedom.” But then I attended patriotic rallies, here in Tampa, and felt strength in the unity of a coalition of races that constitutes my beloved United States.

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