Too young to remember 9/11, these adults make sense of the day that changed everything
Every morning since March, carpenter Dominick Domingo wakes up, dons a hardhat, and commutes from Staten Island to the construction site of a performing arts center on Fulton Street in Manhattan.
Just a block away, the Freedom Tower reaches its spire to the heavens — a constant reminder of the day that no one in New York City will ever forget.
But for Domingo, now 22, Sept. 11, 2001, is beyond the scope of recollection.
As the city marks 20 years since that harrowing event, a new generation of young adults are coming of age — joining the workforce and pursuing their futures in a world that changed before they knew it.
“I learned about it in school, they always talked about it,” said Domingo. “I thought it was pretty crazy how something like that could happen right in our backyard.”
Only later was he told how his father had walked all the way home from Brooklyn that day and why his family has flown an American flag outside their house ever since.
“It’s definitely something I’m aware of, that it’s a big thing that my generation just wasn’t around for,” said 19-year-old Sofia Fogarty, whose mother was just a few months pregnant with her the day of the attack.
“It’s something that has always kind of felt like part of New York City history to me. Because when I was born, it was still pretty fresh and new, but by the time I became aware of stuff like that, it was just really a part of life. So I never experienced a change.”
With two parents who worked in and around the World Trade Center — Fogarty’s mother on Wall Street, and her father as an architect redesigning the Sky Lobby — it wasn’t really until Fogarty learned about the day in school that she realized how lucky they all had been.
“There was a girl in our class that didn’t come in the day we talked about it, because her dad had passed away. And we went at the end of the year to the 9/11 memorial, as a field trip, and I remember seeing her father’s name on this big wall,” Fogarty recalled. “I think that’s one of the times that I thought this is something that affected people that I know ... for this girl, her mother was pregnant with her, so she never met her father.
“I remember watching the videos of what happened in the streets, of people running away from this cloud of rubble, and watching the towers come down. I did think that was really emotional,” she said.
Washington Heights resident Janchris Muñoz, also 19, recalls his introduction to 9/11 in grade school. “They were trying to really inform us on what that day was about. It was crazy, I thought it happened the same day when they were telling me about it, because it was so intense.”
Still, it wasn’t until Muñoz got his father’s side of the story that the lesson felt personal to him. His dad was working at a restaurant on 42nd St., and told his son about how he quickly rushed uptown to be with family.
“My mind was blown. Because I was like, man, ‘my pops went though that, too?’ Somebody you know went through something like that, it definitely made me feel some type of way.”
For Courtney Lenoir’s sixth grade history students, it’s impossible to leave the classroom without feeling a personal connection to the tragedy.
Lenoir, now 29, was sitting in their seats when the towers were struck — she was a fourth grader at the same Long Island private school. Her father worked in one of the buildings and never came home.
“It’s fascinating when I tell them my story, because otherwise it’s a piece of history that’s really foreign and unimaginable to them,” she said. “‘You were our age when that happened?’ It hits them close to home.”
While Lenoir says she became a teacher because of the impact 9/11 had on her as a child, tackling the emotional depth of that lesson is still not easy.
Lenoir always pivots to the bigger picture, fostering conversations about morality, intolerance and thinking of what others may be going through. She often hears back from parents that those discussions continue at home over dinner.
“Teachers as a career, we have a really powerful position in the lives of students and their families,” she explained. “I aim to deepen the kids’ appreciation for the lessons they’re learning and how it relates to them.”
Like Domingo, Fogarty and Muñoz, 20-year-old Jasmine Moayedzadeh Rad never experienced the pre-9/11 world. It would be years before she would find out why members of her Iranian family changed their last name after that day, to sound “nicer on paper.”
Now a rising junior at Pace University, Moayedzadeh Rad recalls how quiet and somber her campus becomes for a period of time every September.
“I know a lot of the professors lost their close friends, and they had a lot of people from Pace pass during that event. So especially that day, it’s so silent in school.
“I feel like everything we feel is second-hand, because we feel all the trauma coming off of everyone else,” Moayedzadeh Rad observed.
“Kids today don’t realize how much of their world today has been shaped,” said Lenoir. “Whether it’s about taking off your shoes in the airport or the conflicts in the Middle East, everything is different now.”