Seniors think of Sept. 11;
Where Were freshmen when event hit

May 31, 2005 | By Bethany K. Warner

Amie Muza Teskey remembers walking up the stairs in Oshkosh North High School and being told by someone coming down.

David Ju remembers being in study hall.

Chloe Thorsbakken remembers her teachers telling her it would be in textbooks some day.

“It was surreal,” Thorsbakken said. “At first I thought it was a rumor.”

The three had only been in high school for nine days before the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was already a change coming to high school,” Thorsbakken said.

But, now, as the class of 2005 heads out of high school, it’s not terrorism they are worried about.

The generation that came of age after Sept. 11, 2001, fears college debt and joblessness more than another terrorist attack. That’s according to a new survey of college seniors and recent graduates of the class of 2005, most of whom were just weeks into their college or high school careers that fateful Tuesday.

They still fear terrorism, and most believe we’ll see another attack someday soon, but when asked, “What are you most fearful of at this time?” only 13.4 percent said a terrorist attack; 32.4 percent answered “going deeply into debt,” and another 31.2 percent said “being unemployed.”

“You’re so far removed,” said North senior Tim Nesbitt. “You see it happening but don’t think about it happening here.”

The survey, released last week by the bipartisan Partnership for Public Service, suggests that debt weighs heavily on this group: 45.1 percent say they expect to graduate with $10,000 or more in college loans, with 20.6 percent saying they have more than $20,000 to pay off.

“It is the central challenge that they face,” says William Strauss, co-author of “Millennials Rising” and other books about the generation of Americans born since 1982.

By 2001, Strauss said, this group of students already had their sense of security altered by the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 and similar tragedies, which prompted schools to reconsider safety years before the rest of the country.

“The adjustments that the society made post-9/11 seemed less startling, and they were more willing to accept it,” Strauss says. “Going to an airport felt like going to high school.”

Oshkosh had introduced policies about visitors and developed school safety plans for the school buildings before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Still, the reality of the attack in New York City is suddenly becoming more apparent to Thorsbakken, who is headed there for college in the fall.

“It’ll be a big change,” Thorsbakken said. “In Oshkosh you don’t have any worries.”