A little girl is frightened. It’s her first day of preschool. Her lunchbox is packed and resting on the dinner table, but her parents' eyes are glued to the television. Their faces are stone—eyes sharp, voices hushed. She asks them to turn off the news and they comply, not wanting to scare her. This is the only memory I have from 9/11. Still, I can't determine whether it is authentic, or a memory forged from stories my parents told me later on.
Thirteen years later, I walk through a geometric array of swamp white oak trees on the 9/11 Memorial. I gaze into the cavernous pool that reflects the absence of the North Tower. Moved by the austere beauty and symbolism of the structure, I pause to take in the space. I am here to interview for one of six spots in the 9/11 Memorial Museum's inaugural class of high school ambassadors. I don't know what to expect, but I forge ahead.
A month later, I am immersed in the program. In weekly meetings, along with my fellow ambassadors, we study the museum's artifacts, discuss texts, and attend lectures and documentary screenings. On the weekends, we work with young children visiting the museum during our activity stations, helping them add artwork to a mural and read books about 9/11. Additionally, we shadow guided tours in preparation for the tours we will give to our community members on graduation day.
Among many emotional moments, perhaps the most memorable was retired FDNY firefighter Bill Spade's visit. As he described his family of firefighters, their tragic deaths and his own miraculous survival, his eyes began to well up, invoking tears in many of us.
Two impactful months later, I see the solemn reactions from my friends and teachers as I take them on my graduation day tour of the museum. Their questions are poignant and forward-thinking. Bringing educators and peers from my school into this space of emotion, commemoration and healing feels incredibly rewarding. As the evening winds down and the museum empties, we work our way to the exit. I glance back at the empty space and know that I will continue to volunteer here for as long as I can.
By Annalee Tai, 9/11 Museum Ambassador
This is a two-part blog series. Part two will be published Friday, October 23.