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I think we can all agree that the past few years have been tough for this country. From the economy to the racial division to the 2016 election, it has been rough y’all. The mainstream media networks do not help, either, when they report things that drive their viewer base through the roof with sensationalized stories. It makes us feel like awful things are happening all around us, which could not be further from the truth. There is still so much good in this country. I make a concerted effort to seek out those good stories, and try to remember that the bad stories only represent a small portion of what is going on. I started to feel like maybe I was the only one.

Did other people feel this way, or was I being naive to all the bad news stories circulating the air waves and news feeds? I always felt pride in being an American, but I began to wonder when my undying love the good ole’ USA started. Was there something that happened to me that made me so patriotically optimistic? As I reflected on this thought and watched protests and flag desecration on the news, it hit me.

September 11, 2001. That was the day that I began to understand what it means to be an American. I was fourteen years old when 9/11 occurred, old enough to remember but not old enough to really understand. You may always wonder why people ask “where were you when 9/11 happened?” and it is because the day started out as normal as it could be. I could not tell you what I did, where I was, or who I sat next to in class on on September 10th, 2001. It is a completely different story for September 11th of that same year.

Geometry class, Ms. Glasgow, 9th grade, and it was beautifully sunny outside. I remember the intercom system coming, signaling an emergency teachers meeting in the hallway. It lasted a few minutes, and then a TV was wheeled into our room. That was always good news for students! Except it was not good news that day, it was the worst possible news. They turned on the television and the reporters spoke about “hijacking” and “terrorist attacks.” These were phrases I never heard of. I was scared because I was so confused. I was worried because they were already talking about military actions, and my dad was a colonel in the Army. Was something like this going to happen here in my little Alabama town?

We were dismissed early that day, and the buses had been cancelled so my mom had to come pick me up. She was a wreck and I had to talk her through the drive home, even though it only lasted five minutes. When my dad got home, I asked him about hijacking. I told him I felt too embarrassed to ask at school, but that I did not know what it meant. He gave me the most basic definition and I burst into tears. How could someone do that? Why couldn’t it be prevented? What did those people do to deserve that?

Over the next few months though, something strange came over this country. Especially for me and my teenage friends. We were shockingly removed from our blissful ignorance of “bad” in the world, but also submerged into a patriotic dream. People did not honk their horns on the roads for a while, they let mothers and the elderly cut them in line, they went to church, they signed up for community service. It seemed that there was a collective effort to uplift this country, and everyone felt a personal responsibility to do it. The stories were endless about police officers and firefighters saving lives, but also about people returning precious lost objects and taking in neighbors. These were stories that shaped my understanding of America. It didn’t matter your race, your income, or your situation – all that mattered was that you needed help. Grief and fear could only be driven out by love and action.

That is why this election season, and how many people have reacted to the outcome, has been so tough of some of us older millennials. Yes, we may have differing political views, but I think we have all been disappointed in the sensationalized bad news. There is good in this world, but that is not what brings in the viewers. This is the best country in the world, and yes, you may not agree with policies or candidates or rulings, but we are free. Freer than the gripping fear this nation experienced only fifteen years ago.

Maybe you were a young child, maybe you were not even born, but 9/11 forever shaped millions of lives around this country. It is our responsibility as Americans to lift each other up, even in the face of disagreement or fear. The best way to advance this country is to build upon it, not knock it down. Is there hatred in this country? Of course. But is up to us to combat that in both small and big ways. That is what I saw post-9/11, and that is why my pride for this country will never waver.

Genevieve C