On September 10th, tomorrow seemed like just another day in the life of a first year GSB student. My biggest concerns about that Tuesday were standard orientation fare: Will I have a good hair day for that dreaded facebook picture? Who's going to help me configure my computer to the Schwab network? How on earth am I going to wake up for the way-too-early Excel review without an alarm clock?
The last fear proved unwarranted, for at 6:30am the following morning I received a wake-up call that I will never forget. "Sal," I heard my sister say, as I still lay half asleep. "There was a tragedy in New York this morning. A plane hit the World Trade Center." I imagined she meant a small plane. A Cessna or something. Must've had an accident. Maybe the pilot lost control, or the engine failed. Drawing on the security and safety I have known my entire life, I could not imagine anything worse in my own backyard.
Having grown up with a television and radio in almost every room of my house, I was amazed to find myself without either in my barely unpacked room. So I went online. Or tried to, at least. I must've tried to enter CNN, MSNBC, and other news sites more than a dozen times, but it was of no use. They were already jammed. The phone lines weren't much better. So I turned to Instant Messenger and began a string of heart wrenching IMs that would be my most reliable lifeline to NY for the next few days.
Those were undoubtedly the longest days I have ever known. Here I was, at the school I thought would best foster personal growth because it would take me away from the east coast for the first time. But that was how I rationally thought about school when the world was an orderly, logical place. My desire to have business school be about something new was suddenly overshadowed by my need to be somewhere familiar. I spent most of the week wondering about my new role not as a GSB citizen but as an American.
I emotionally withdrew from orientation activities and from the classmates I had looked forward to meeting for so long. Though surrounded by 365 friendly new faces, I felt more alone than I ever have in my life. Instead of checking out the scene at Q's or the Goose, I found myself glued to the headlines, constantly pressing the "refresh" button on my web browser, still expecting a miracle. Without being in NY and seeing the changed skyline, or smelling the smoke, or hearing the sirens, I had somehow convinced myself that this was all some terrible nightmare from which I would soon awake.
It seemed wrong, even impossible, to enjoy this new place when my home and my friends were under attack. Two days after the attack, on Thursday morning, the lingering fear that I would have a direct connection to one of the victims became a reality. My friend Garth, whom I had not thought to check on since he neither worked nor lived downtown, happened to be at Windows on the World, on the 106th floor of the North Tower, that tragic morning. How could I embark on this new adventure when so many other journeys had been cut short? What was the point?
And even if I wanted to forget, how could I? There were constant reminders of the attack on America everywhere, even here. Despite the isolation on the Farm, there are some glaring reminders of the tragedy that the country, Stanford's country, had endured. Flags appeared everywhere, flying at half-mast and decorating buildings throughout campus. Candles flickered in windows. Red, white and blue became a fashion statement.
At the campus-wide memorial service three days after the attack, everyone was invited to shout out the names of victims, be it confirmed fatalities or those who were missing or injured. When I said my friend Garth's name, the reality of everything finally hit me and I started to sob. Getting together or talking with mutual friends is so important during such a time and it initially seemed impossible to do that here at a new place. As I reflect back, though, I realize how much closer I feel to some classmates because of the horror to which we awoke that Tuesday morning. The superficial conversation fairly typical of any orientation was replaced by an immediate connection to one another. Against the backdrop of national tragedy, we talked about fear and relief, sadness and strength. Such intense emotions are usually only shared after trusting relationships have been established, but the events of our orientation reversed the order to some degree. Here, friendships were formed and strengthened through the genuine interpersonal connections we needed to help us get through orientation.
Regardless of how each of us has been personally affected, our class has been undeniably shaped by the senseless events of September 11th. Many of us saw business school as a passport to great things, to teach us the skills that would help us to improve our world. That world has changed however, and it's up to us as a class to respond, to strive to discover what we can gain by surviving this together. The devastation we shared during our first week at Stanford could have crippled us, but it is already clear that our class has a spirit that cannot be defeated. As time passes, the intensity of some of the current emotions will inevitably fade, but I hope our commitment to one another, our GSB community, and the greater society does not. Let us therefore always remember the energy with which we arrived here, the excitement and optimism with which we expected to change the world. And then let's do it.
By Sally Wolf, MBA1