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Experiencing September 11th as a Mississippi State Student

When one of the worst tragedies to ever take place on our planet happened, I saw it all while finishing up my college career at Mississippi State.

Washington D.C.'s Newseum Sept. 11th Gallery Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

When the fall semester began in 2001, it was an exciting time for me personally. I was beginning my ninth and final semester of college. I would walk down the aisle at Humphrey Coliseum and be handed my college degree, something I had worked my whole life for, and it was about to come to fruition.

Adding to the excitement was the fact the Mississippi St. Bulldogs football team was supposed to have one of its best years ever. The team was ranked in the preseason Top 25 and only Alabama was picked to finish ahead of the Bulldogs. Many Mississippi State fans felt like the Bulldogs had finally arrived (though we now all know they didn't, but that is for another time and post).

Most of my really challenging classes were done with. I was taking mostly filler courses for this last semester just to reach the graduation requirements. The only class I took because I wanted to was World Religions, which would be highly beneficial later on in the semester.

During the summer leading up to the Fall Semester at MSU, I had taken a part time job as a youth minister at a church eight or nine miles west of West Point. It didn't pay much, but they did provide a house to me to live in. My roommates and I were going to move to a new apartment at the end of the 2000-2001 school year, so it was the perfect time for me to go ahead and move into the house the church provided by myself.

It was supposed to be a ho-hum semester. Little did I know the world I lived in was about to be turned upside down a few weeks after classes had begun.

I had a pretty standard ritual when I woke up that semester. September 11th was a Tuesday, and my first class didn't start until 9:30. I always tried to leave around 8:45 to make sure I got to campus on time, found a parking space, and walked to North American Geography.

I usually woke about around 7:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I had a couple of pets who needed their usual attention and then I started my routine of getting ready.

The first thing I always did was make a pot of coffee that I had no problem drinking on my own. While it was brewing, I would turn on my computer and sign on to one of the most popular Internet Providers at that time, America Online. I usually surfed the Internet for a few late night scores before hopping in the shower and actually getting ready.

September 11th was like most other days when I woke up. My alarm went off at 7:30, fixed my coffee and turned on my computer. By the time I was signed on to the Internet (these were the days of dial-up so it took a few minutes) and had my coffee fixed the way I like it, the time was about 7:50.

For those who remember AOL, you’ll recall there was always a welcome screen with news stories and a mailbox informing you if you had mail. Well on this day, there was a blurb for the top story that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers.

The story caught my attention, but I didn't give it too much thought because the picture on the welcome screen wasn't that shocking. There was some smoke billowing from the tower, but it wasn't the huge fireball that we have all seen when the second plane hit the second tower.

Without opening the story, I made a mental note to come back and read it because from the picture I had gathered it was a single engine plane which had lost control. I checked a few scores from the night before and then went back to the plane story. By this time, it was a few minutes after 8:00. I was expecting something mildly interesting, but instead I read about one of the worst possible stories to ever stain our planet.

When I finally got around to reading about the plane crash, the second plane had just hit the second tower. It was obvious the first plane was no accident but this was a planned attack.

I immediately jumped from my computer desk and turned on my television. I then saw the absolute horror of what was taking place in New York. The video of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center was being replayed over and over shortly after it had struck. And then I saw the unthinkable.

At right around 9:00, (I had decided by this time there would be no classes for me this day) the first tower would crumble to the ground, the second tower would do the same not long after the first tower came crashing down. What looked like something you would only see on an Independence Day movie was happening before my very eyes.

So many things ran through my mind as I sat there in the small house that a tiny West Point, MS church had provided. First of all, I thought about the number of people who must have perished in the horrible tragedy. I assumed it had to be over 50,000 people. We thankfully learned the number was much smaller, but one was one too many.

My mind then went to how powerful an intelligent human mind can be, and when used for evil purposes, it can create a deadly and devastating event. The first tower’s construction began in August of 1968, and the second tower was completed in January of 1972. A project that took nearly three and a half years to complete was brought down in a little over two hours because Osama Bin Laden put all of his thought and effort into killing as many Americans as humanly possible at one time.

But I mostly thought about how I was witnessing a truly life changing event. Though I knew no one on those planes or in either of those towers or anyone who was in either of the two planes which crashed into the Pentagon or in a field in Pennsylvania, I knew that life would never be the same after that day.

Around 2:00 that afternoon, I decided to go ahead and get ready and head to Starkville. It was a Tuesday, and I normally met some friends of mine who transferred from Northwest Community College at their apartment to go to the Baptist Student Union and the Wesley Foundation. I knew tonight was going to be different, and I had hoped the comfort of my friends and worship experience would help me make some sense of all that I had witnessed.

The previous day when I had returned home from class, I noticed my gas tank was slightly less than a 14 full. I decided to wait to get gas until I made it back to Starkville the following morning. Back then, gas was about 10 to 15 cents cheaper in Starkville than it was in West Point, so I thought it would make more sense to wait. It was as I was leaving that I discovered I made a pretty big mistake.

Every gas station in West Point and Starkville had monstrous lines. It was after about the second or third gas station I passed I realized people were panicking because they thought OPEC was going to raise oil prices to the U.S. since we were about to go to war with Afghanistan if they didn’t turn over Bin Laden.

I made it to my friends’ apartment, and told them I would try to make it back in time to ride with them to the Baptist Student Union. I had to have gas or I wouldn’t make it back to West Point. My friends offered to let me spend the night there in the hopes there wouldn’t be huge lines at the gas pumps in the morning, but it was an apartment of three girls. Most people would have just taken their offer and crashed on their couch. But remember, I was a part time youth minister at a small country church. While it would have been unlikely that someone at the church would have found out, it wasn’t worth the risk of losing my job and the place I lived.

I went down to a small gas station that was close to the airport on Lynn Lane which was about a mile from my friends’ apartment. I ended up waiting about an hour to get gas, and was just thankful this wasn’t one of the gas stations that gouged their prices. I made it back to their apartment around 4:00, and we left for the BSU and Wesley Foundation around 5:30.

I don’t remember much about the services. What I do remember is how much pressure had to be on the leaders of each organization to try to help the people in attendance process the pain and confusion they were feeling. And it also occurred to me I would be in the same situation with the youth group I was leading the next night at Wednesday night services.

There were a lot of tears. There was a lot of fear. It was a scary time in the life of our country, and we were a bunch of college kids trying our best to figure it all out.

The next morning was strange. I had a World Religions class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that I knew would be interesting because of all the events that had taken place. As I was walking from my car to class, things were so much quieter than usual. A lot of people were walking with their heads down. Many who usually chatted with friends as they made their way to class didn’t this morning.

Once in my World Religions class, the professor knew that this didn’t need to be a normal day. She asked if people had any questions or wanted any perspective she might have had on the events that transpired. We had yet to make it to Islam, but she was willing to give us a crash course on the topic if we wanted one.

It was an emotional day in that class. There were people who began to cry as they talked about what happened. There were people who were angry about all that had transpired. Our professor tried to explain that the events which took place the previous morning were not representative of the majority of Muslims. Some people believed it and some people didn’t, much like it is today when it comes to people’s opinion on the religion of Islam.

Things never felt normal at Mississippi State until the first football game in the country was played in Starkville nine days later. I wrote about that game when I was at Maroon and White Nation. There was a different feel that night much like there was all of the other days that followed the horrible events of September 11th.

Life slowly started to get back to normal after that night. We were hopeful to distract ourselves with a great football team, but if you are anywhere close to familiar with Mississippi State football, you know that season was one of the most disappointing ever in the history of the program. But life went on.

None of us will ever forget what happened that fateful day. None of us will ever forget where we were and how we processed the tragic events that occurred. But on such a horrible day, I was able to find comfort because I was at a place that I loved dearly and was with friends who could comfort one another.