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Growing up post-9/11

A decade ago, a panel of teens shared some profound thoughts about how 9/11 changed their world. We tracked some of them down to see what they think about it now.

September 7, 2011
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Anna Berg was a senior at Saranac Lake High School when two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now she lives in Manhattan, and she's got a whole different perspective on the infamous attacks.

"It really impacts you a lot more living here," Berg said.

Article Photos

Adam Boudreau of Tupper Lake reads an Oct. 2, 2001, Enterprise on Tuesday. That issue documented a panel discussion with a group of then-high-schoolers, including him.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)

Berg was one of 10 Tri-Lakes students who got together at the Hotel Saranac on Sept. 28, 2001, to talk with the Enterprise news staff about how the attacks were affecting their lives, and she's one of five the Enterprise got in contact with to check in 10 years later.

Berg said in a Tuesday phone interview that everyone she encounters in New York City has a story about how the attacks affected them personally in much more direct ways than she remembers being impacted by it while living in Saranac Lake. At the time, Berg said she and her peers really felt and reacted to the attacks, but now when she hears stories about things like her boss's brother dying that day, she realizes how different it is for people who lived there.

She's now a nurse working at New York-Presbyterian hospital while attending night classes to get a nurse practitioner degree. Through work she hears many stories from emergency workers who were the first people on the scene at ground zero and who are now dealing with a variety of medical conditions as a result of it.

Fact Box



THURSDAY: Current high-schoolers say they were too young to fully understand 9/11 then, but they could absorb the fear of that time. They still worry about attacks, but they've also learned about the Middle East and not to take their country for granted.


FRIDAY: Sept. 11, 2001, was the third day of Chris Knight's journalism career. He writes about being on the air of local radio station WNBZ amid chaos, trying to figure out what to do as he took listeners' calls.


SATURDAY: ADE readers tell their stories about where they were and how the attacks affected them.


INSIDE EACH DAY: Stories from around the nation and world

"With the anniversary coming up, everyone's talking about it here," Berg said.

She had been to New York City before the attacks, but only to the tourist areas like Times Square, so she doesn't remember what the area looked like with the twin towers there, but she said it's now one big construction scene as builders construct a memorial at the site.

Berg said it is sometimes scary to live in New York City, and she can feel isolated in situations like when much of the city shut down for Tropical Storm Irene's arrival last month. In the Adirondacks, people can always find somewhere else to go, but in the city, all she has is her apartment on the 30th floor of her Upper East Side building.

"If something did happen, you're just stuck here," Berg said. "There's really nowhere to go."

But that fear wasn't enough to deter Berg from moving to New York City and staying there.

"I like it too much here," Berg said. "I wouldn't give that up."

Maeghan Vaillancourt Ottrey, who grew up in Tupper Lake, also spent some time living in New York City between 2006 and 2010. Interviewed in an online chat, Vaillancourt recounted a story about the day she was working in corporate litigation in the Chrysler Building and heard a major explosion outside her office one evening. She and thousands of others fled the building, assuming that it was a terrorist attack.

"It was singlehandedly the scariest day of my life," Vaillancourt said. "I even called my mom while running barefoot through the streets toward the East River to tell her I didn't know what was going on, but that there was an explosion and I loved her."

Two hours later, she found out it was a steam pipe exploding, but she said it's a good example of how people react to things in New York City nowadays. Despite that, she said it didn't pervade her everyday thoughts.

When Vaillancourt was on the Enterprise's panel in 2001, she said her main concern in the wake of 9/11 was being able to travel the world. "I think that's going to be hard if we're at war and people are hating Americans and Americans are hating other people," she said at the time.

Now, Vaillancourt is living out those dreams, living in Melbourne, Australia, with her Australian husband. She said she's lucky to live in what she calls "an incredibly peaceful country, and one which isn't involved in a lot of overseas issues (not to the extent that the U.S. is)."

She said she does believe that many people from other countries do resent the U.S. for getting involved in international issues it shouldn't while staying out of issues where it should intervene. But she said it's naive for people to hate Americans as a whole for particular events and policies, "just as it's terribly naive for Americans to hate Muslims for 9/11."

Vaillancourt said she's looking forward to having an Australian passport to use for travel, especially to go places like the Middle East, because she said that will allow her to leave part of her identity behind for a bit.

"My heart belongs in NYC, and always will, but some distance is good," Vaillancourt said.

Not everyone said 9/11 had changed their lives. Stephanie Sears said in a phone interview Tuesday that she doesn't feel like the event had much of an impact on her life at all.

A Lake Placid High School graduate, Sears had never been to New York City before the attacks and had never seen the twin towers. She now lives in New Orleans, and said she doesn't have television or Internet, so her world is mainly restricted to the neighborhood she lives in.

"I don't even know what wars are going on right now," Sears said.

Most of the people she lives with are from different countries and English is their second language, but mainly they talk about things like what they're going to have for dinner and what live music they're going to see that weekend, not international relations.

In 2001, Sears said her main concerns were tourists who were canceling their trips to Lake Placid, since she worked in a restaurant and relied on the tips she made there to put gas in her car. She said she keeps her concerns to basic things like filling her gas tank now, too.

She said she believes most other people in her peer group are in the same boat, only feigning interest in things like international politics. It's part of growing up that people get focused on everyday things, she said.

"You just suddenly have to become focused on what's right in front of you," Sears said.

The main thing she has concerns about is the "creepy" privacy issues that arose from the Patriot Act, but she said she feels like those would have come about whether 9/11 happened or not.

Sears said she imagines the attacks probably have a much bigger impact on people who live in New York City and were directly affected by them, comparing that to the life-changing affects of 2005's Hurricane Katrina on her current city.

"Here, we talk about before the flood and after the flood as two different worlds," Sears said. "I imagine it's pretty similar in New York."

Adam Boudreau said he sees the impacts of 9/11 as something that permeates into the culture of American life. Growing up, his generation had only heard stories of World War II and attacks like Pearl Harbor, but had never experienced anything like it.

"I think it made the world a more frightening place for our generation," Boudreau said. "That changes everything. I think we're still experiencing changes from that; I think we're going to for a long time."

Boudreau was a Tupper Lake High School senior when the attacks happened, and he went on to study international relations while at SUNY Geneseo. He said it was a topic that interested him, and it was a time when academics were riled up over all the turmoil that was happening as a result.

Boudreau moved back to Tupper Lake after college and is now a heavy equipment operator. He said he's not sure if 9/11 had an impact on his decision to come back, or if he would have done it anyway.

Boudreau was one of several high schoolers on the panel who said in 2001 that he believed the terrorist attacks happened because the muslim world is offended by American materialism.

"I definitely think I agree with the things we were saying," Boudreau said. "I think that we're viewed by the Arab world as a tyrant and imperialistic, and I can't foresee us working it out at any time soon, that's for sure."

Boudreau said he thinks the U.S. dealt with the terrorist attacks in the wrong way, by invading first Afghanistan then Iraq, and that it has made the Arab world only see the U.S. in a worse light than it did before.

In 2001, Boudreau had said he was concerned about the U.S. starting to draft people into the armed forces. While that hasn't happened, he said it's disturbing to think about how two Tupper Lakers around his age were severely injured in wars, Bergan Arsenault losing a leg in Afghanistan and Josh Jones losing one in Iraq.

"It's upsetting, the loss of life we've had over there, and I'm not sure anything was accomplished," Boudreau said.

Chris Morris, who graduated from Saranac Lake High School and since returned to the area, disagreed that the U.S.'s military actions have been a waste. He said he believes they have been successful in getting people vulnerable to terrorist groups to understand that our country is trying to help them, not harm them.

Morris said that though he was concerned in 2001 with the way the U.S. was viewed abroad, as a materialistic culture, that's now the least of his concerns. While there may be strong cultural differences between the U.S. and other parts of the world, "that should be an occasion to have a dialogue, not kill thousands of innocent people," Morris said.

Like Berg and Vaillancourt, Morris said he hasn't let fear bred from the terrorist attacks bar him from doing the things and going the places he's wanted to in life.

"I've traveled to places like England and Europe - in fact I was living in London when the Madrid bombings took place," Morris said. "I think the clearest path to victory for al Qaida or any terrorist cell is to take away our livelihood and our basic freedoms to enjoy life. Had I stayed at home because I was afraid to travel or explore the world, then that represents a victory for the perpetrators."

He said he thinks that across the U.S., people did a good job of not living in fear.

"We didn't cancel the Super Bowl after 9/11, and we didn't tell people to stay at home during the holidays," Morris said. "I think as a country that's our greatest victory - that we didn't let fear take over."



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