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KNOXVILLE—When two planes slammed into the Twin Towers in New York City a decade ago, it was the first time an important national event caught University of Tennessee, Knoxville, senior Derek Mullins’ attention.

Along with lost youthful naivety, Mullins, who was 12 at the time of the attacks, gained a desire to learn more about current events, their link to the past and politics. This led to his pursuit of political science and history degrees at UT.

He plans to enter a career in law or education where he can “inspire people to ask questions about what’s going on in the world,” he said.

As the nation commemorates the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Mullins and other UT students–who were 10 to 12 years old at the time of the attacks–share their thoughts about how that event has affected them and shaped their outlook.

“I would hope that people will realize that things that our nation does abroad can have detrimental consequences for Americans at home,” Mullins said. “I hope we re-analyze our mindset on the Middle East and determine what makes the most sense for our nation and our allies, both in terms of economic prosperity and diplomacy and security.”

For UT Senior Jonathan Zamora, the events of 9/11 has brought the world closer to home.

“The events of that day just made life more real than it already was,” he said.

For Dana Humberger, a UT junior, “it really opened my eyes to some of the pain and the hurt that goes on in this world.”

The attacks are still affecting UT junior Christina Hawk. Her uncle, Barry Galfano, died this summer from multiple cancers caused by working at Ground Zero. He was captain of the New York Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit.

Like Hawk, Stephanie Leonard also was personally touched by the attacks. Her father was deployed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar for about six months. Even though her father had gone overseas before, for the first time she got the sense that “he might not come home,” she said.

While Leonard, a UT junior, initially internalized the fear and sadness she felt, the events of 9/11 drove home the significance of family.

“I am so close with my father now,” she said. “I was always close with my mom thanks to her being a stay-at-home mom, but the year after the war, my dad and I finally connected. Even now that I’m in college, I couldn’t stand the idea of going to a college that was too far from home. I chose to stay in Knoxville to be close to them.”

UT junior Sara Mitchell has become more vigilant since the attacks.

“I look at security on all levels differently,” she said. “Whether it is walking from a parking lot into a store or traveling internationally, I take a second look for suspicious people or anything out of the ordinary. I am not scared to go out, but I am definitely cautious.”

Jill Wilson, a UT graduate student, now tries hard to be aware of current events and to speak intelligently about them.

“I definitely make an effort to think before I speak, however, I even have difficulties with that today,” she said. “I also listen to National Public Radio daily to evade the feeling of ignorance for the world like I felt on that day.”

Above all, 9/11 has taught UT senior Joseph Sullivan about gratitude.

“The events of that day showed me that this world can be a cruel place and that I need to be thankful for what I have,” he said. “I try to enjoy the simple things when I can because no one knows when it will all be gone.”


Megan Williamson, UT senior: “My hope for the future as we approach the ten-year anniversary is that we would come to not be petty about other people’s race and also for people to realize that the end can happen at any time, and to prepare for the future.”

Joey Mileham, UT senior: “We, as a country, have made some mistakes, some large ones. Ethically, politically, financially, we have faltered in all areas in our short history. But we’re still human. We’re on the right track, though, and I’d like to think we would all go down swinging if someone tried to take our freedom.”

Annie Elliott, UT senior: “It was an extremely scary day, yet the patriotism and support from the local community and entire nation was incredible.”

Meghan Peevely, UT senior: “I hope that as we approach the tenth anniversary that our sense of security and safety will one day be restored. I hope that we as a nation can take preventative measures without being reactive to situations.”

Alex Brown, UT graduate student: ” I learned that blind hatred is one of the true villains in this world … I learned that there are real heroes in this world. The brave men and women who sacrificed their lives, and in many cases today, their health, in order to help those who were trapped in the rubble were ordinary people who stepped up in a tremendous way. As a kid, it was important for me to have those people to look up to. They let me know that even when terrible things happen, people will still help their fellow man, regardless of the danger to themselves. It gave me hope then, and it still gives me hope now.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,