In the fall of 2011, I was in my third and last year at OBU. I had just returned from a 6-week road trip to Alaska with my best friend. I had bought an engagement ring for my college girlfriend. I was enjoying my studies in religion, and surviving my minor in business administration. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up for a business management class. I saw the news of the first attack online in my dorm room. It didn't really sink in. I wasn't even sure it was real.
On my way to breakfast, I noticed that a crowd had gathered around a big-screen TV in the lower level of the Geiger Center. This was around the time the second plane crashed into the tower. My management class was in the Bailey Business Center, which had a large projector on which we watched the news reports in stunned silence. When news broke of the Pentagon crash, my professor immediately left the room to call his daughter, who at the time worked for the Defense Department in counterterrorism (she was unharmed).
Later that morning, I had an hourlong ministry seminar. The other students were all freshmen, and I didn't know any of them. (I changed my major to religion halfway through my second year, so I hadn't taken Intro to Ministry as a freshman.) The professor, Rev. Dr. Tom Wilks, convened a prayer session in Stubblefield Chapel. This was the only time I ever went into that building.
Later in the day, I had a Bible class (maybe Pentateuch? maybe Exegesis of Acts?). I do remember the professor deliberating about whether we should have class that afternoon. There was nothing we could do, after all. The attacks were intended to incite terror. If we abandoned our studies, would the terrorists win? Anyway, we went on with the lecture and discussion. It seemed the right thing to do.
That night, I remember watching President Bush give a comforting address to the nation on TV, quoting the 23rd Psalm. The next day, OBU President Mark Brister spoke to the university community in chapel. I don't remember which Oklahoma Baptist minister was scheduled to give the sermon that day, but he knew that OBU needed to hear from its leader in that moment. I thought that was pretty classy.
I had become more interested in politics in the previous year. My study of the Bible was helping me form values that had serious political implications, challenging some of them and crystallizing others. I had been following the national debates over stem cell research and tax cuts. I had also become interested in the sociology of religion, and particularly how people of the same religious faith could arrive at such vastly different social and political views. A few months after 9/11, I sat in the library and read an essay in The Atlantic by David Brooks, "One Nation, Slightly Divisible." Looking back, it's amazing how 9/11 ushered in a moment of national unity. Yet in the years that followed, our response to 9/11 accelerated an already palpable polarization.
In the 11 years that have come and gone since then, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on those issues. I'm eternally grateful for OBU. The experience, knowledge, and wisdom I gained there have been invaluable as I've grappled with moral, ethical, theological, and political issues in my personal and professional life. Like everyone, I've made mistakes and poor judgments. But when I've been at my best, OBU's influence on my life has been most profound.
For my generation, 9/11 was a tragic part of our coming-of-age. Over the years I've met many people who were personally affected in much more dramatic ways than I was as a 20 year old college senior in Shawnee, Oklahoma. But on reflection, I do see how greatly that day affected the unfolding of my own life.
Yet today I remember my countrymen, the loved and lost. In all that we do, let us seek to honor their memory.