The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was starting a vocabulary lesson with my class of high school juniors when I noticed I had run short of worksheets and excused myself to make a quick trip to the faculty room across the hall to use the copier.

Several teachers were gathered around the small television in the room, watching a news program that showed a plane hitting the World Trade Center. At the time, it was believed to be an accident.

I returned to my classroom and discussed the rest of the lesson with the students. An open house was scheduled for that night, and I told the class I was looking forward to meeting their parents. Everyone was feeling upbeat; the year was getting off to a good start.

When the bell signaling the change of classes was delayed, no one was concerned at first, but as time went on, students grew restless, then anxious. There had been interruptions in the routine before, but they were rare and usually meant a bomb threat or other such worrisome, but manageable, event.

After about 20 minutes, the office secretary arrived with a message. She asked me to read the note aloud to the class, and as I skimmed the contents, I wondered how I would ever get through it. I was to tell the class that the attack on the World Trade Center appeared to be intentional, that another plane had deliberately crashed into the Pentagon, and that another had been hijacked and was headed for the White House.

As I read, I saw the fear and disbelief on their young faces; their world had been changed forever, and they knew it. As their teacher, my heart ached for the loss of innocence. As a mother, my thoughts went to my daughter at college. What comfort could I offer any of them?

As it happened, the students themselves provided the answer with their courage and resilience. Offered the chance to leave school for the day, most stayed. They were subdued but purposeful.

In the days following, many stories of heroism came to light. It seems that every generation is tested, and this one rose to the challenge as their parents and grandparents did before them.

As the war on terror continued, a number of former students came back to visit and speak of their service to their country. I remember one young man who had worked hard in school; worked even harder to become a Marine, and was now an anti-terrorism specialist assigned to guard a U.S. embassy in the Middle East. I had to persuade him to wear his handsome dress uniform as he did not want to appear boastful.

When he stood in front of the class, I was reminded of that day when terrorists did their best to break our spirit. Clearly, they had failed. Our flag is indeed still there, and it belongs to all who stand proudly in the defense of freedom.

– Special to the Telegram