Memories of 9/11 burn bright for CHS staffers


20 years later, the CHS staff still remembers the feeling of not knowing what was going on the morning of the 9/11 attacks.

Lillian Chen

Very rarely is someone able to remember the details of their day on Sept. 10, 2001, but askmwhat they were doing a mere 24 hours later and it’s an entirely different story.

Having opened its doors to the very first group of students only a year prior, CHS was still in the process of finding its bearings at the time. Curriculum was still being developed, classrooms on the first floor were still being built, and the second ever class of wide-eyed freshmen had just started high school in September of 2001.

“Right now I have about 30 staff members, we probably had about 15, maybe 18 staff members,” said Principal James Gleason. “So pretty large building with a pretty small group of students at that point.”

Present-day high schoolers have a very detached perspective of Sept. 11. They have grown up learning about it once a year in school; they were raised hearing personal accounts from family, friends and teachers, especially those who lived in the tri-state area at the time and had close connections to the tragedy.

However, the last graduating class of high schoolers to have been born before Sept. 11, 2001, was the class of 2018, and even then, they were only infants at the time of the attacks. Present-day teenagers have never known a New York in which the Twin Towers were standing, and while able to understand that the tragedy happened, it can be expressly difficult to imagine it unfolding, especially outside of the photographs and videos shown in school. It can be even harder to visualize the confusion of how the events of the attacks unfolded in an environment as familiar to these students as CHS when they have only known a post-9/11 world, one where the events of that day are simply straightforward facts instead of grief-muddled confusion.

Nonetheless, even two decades’ time has been unable to wash away the clarity of the memories of Sept. 11, 2001 for those who were there to witness them.

Gleason recounted being in an MCVSD administrative meeting at High Technology High School in Lincroft the morning of the attacks.

“There’s a round conference room in their main office and I was with other principals from the career academies, and I remember that there was a TV on the other side of the secretary,” Gleason said. “I guess the report had come in that a plane had hit the tower and so I remember the news being turned on and we saw it…so we quickly dismissed our meeting and we headed back to our buildings.”

US history teacher Sharyn O’Keefe, who has been working at CHS since it opened, remembers teaching a freshman world history class when the first plane hit. She explained that a colleague had pulled her from class to alert her to what was happening on the news.

“A lot of the freshmen that were with me…stayed with me during lunch,” O’Keefe said. “They didn’t want to go downstairs, they just kind of stayed in the room and ate, and the kids that had me period one all came back again, so I had a pretty big room during lunch.”

A sentiment that both staff members shared was a persistent feeling of uncertainty as the day went on.

“There was a lot of unknown at that particular time,” Gleason said. “I think everybody was concerned because nobody knew what else was going to happen or if there was going to be anything else that was gonna happen.”

In the days following the attacks, O’Keefe recalls doing what she could to bring clarity to her students in relation to the attacks, opening the conversation and allowing them to process what was happening globally.

“Students, especially in history, [wanted] to talk about it, so that was as we were still trying to get information,” O’Keefe said. “[It] was kind of hard to give them what they needed, but we did our best.”

Gleason reminisced on how the CHS community, in its signature fashion and quite similarly to much of the world, pulled together amidst the grief and confusion to help one another out.

“I remember a lot of patience, I remember a lot of people being very patient with one another, and also being very kind,” Gleason said. “There was just a sense of a lot of unknown, and I do remember people being more friendly with one another…there was never any time that anybody could reflect like that that happened on our shores.”