Preschoolers on 9/11, Now Guides, Reflect on Meaning of "Never Forget"

  • August 11, 2022
Two guides at the Last Column
Photos: Jin S. Lee

Interpretive guides Kerry Pfaff (left) and Ella Hester at the Last Column

Kerry Pfaff and Ella Hester were preschoolers in New York on September 11th and now both work for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Interpretive Guide Program. They recently spoke to each other about the experience and how they personalize the collective promise to “Never Forget.”

Ella: I was four years old when 9/11 occurred, living in Brooklyn. But I don't remember the events of that day. What I learned was through stories that my family and friends would tell, and I remember having a moment of silence in school and so on. But we didn’t really talk about what it was. It was 9/11, and I knew it was a big deal, but I didn't know exactly what was going on.

But being here at the Museum, learning more about the day's events, I've been able to contextualize better and understand the panic, fear, and depths of grief that people were experiencing in those months after. 

A young woman in front of Slurry Wall

Ella at the Slurry Wall

Kerry: We're the same age. I was also four when it happened, but I have some memories of knowing something was wrong. 

And then, growing up on Staten Island, I have a lot of family and friends who are first responders who would tell me some of their personal experiences of the attacks or the clean-up after. 

Ella: Do you have a favorite part about working at the museum? 

Kerry: Getting to work with people who have these really, really personal connections to 9/11. Their strength and devotion to this place is inspiring. It's made my day over and over and over again when I go to work. What about you?

Ella: I think my favorite part is giving tours to young people, kids who aren't that much younger than me, who either weren't alive that day, or don't remember it. They are extremely respectful and curious. 

Kerry: Yeah, I love that part of being a guide — watching people understand these things for the first time. 

Ella: Exactly. I want them to know how our world has changed. Like understanding why we go through such airport security. That may seem like a small thing, but there are so many small things like that, which have completely altered American society and culture.

Young woman in front of the Memorial

Kerry at the Memorial

Kerry: I like to point out how many people were part of the recovery process. I want them to know how many people came back day after day for months, risking their lives to help put the city back together. I think in that part of the story you see the best in people. People really showed up for one another that day. 

Ella: Yeah, I agree. Resilience in the aftermath and recovery is incredibly inspiring. Putting ourselves back together — a process of rebuilding.

Kerry: What does the promise to “Never Forget” mean to you?
Ella: Remembering all of the victims and learning their personal stories. That is something I try to do as a guide. 

But everyone who visits the Museum has their own emotional reactions, and they can be very different. So I think “Never Forget” means to try to hold all those experiences and beliefs in your heart all at once. 

Kerry: I think it means, like you said, never to forget the people. To remember what happened to them, to keep telling their stories, and keep saying their names — make sure that they are not forgotten.

Ella Hester is a Senior Interpretive Guide in the Education Department at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Ella was born and raised in Brooklyn and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. After graduating from the University of Chicago with a BA in History and Creative Writing, she is currently finishing her Master’s in Biography and Memoir at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Kerry Pfaff is the Assistant Manager of Interpretive Programs – Docent Program at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Kerry was born and raised in Staten Island, and went to high school at Brooklyn Tech. After graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a BA in Historic Preservation, she is currently finishing up her Master’s in Urban Studies at the CUNY School for Labor and Urban Studies.

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