Mark Gross is a producer at 2U.
It happened on a Tuesday morning. And though the tragedy began before 9 a.m., I was already on campus. I was never able to finagle the sort of cushy schedule that allowed other students to start their days late, their evenings early and their weekends on Thursdays. Early that morning, I sat in a small classroom led by a measured, white-haired professor – infamous for telling long, rambling stories – when the first plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
I’m fuzzy on the details. For instance, exactly how we heard the news and how Professor McGurrin’s class came to an early end that day, I can’t say. In hindsight, I don’t even recall the content of his now infamous storytelling, but I do recall feeling they were brilliant sagas told grandly. Even though classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, I didn’t leave campus right away.
I was a commuter. My friends and family, my late-nights, my full-time job and my home were a middling commute from Hilltop Circle. For the most part, my life happened elsewhere. Sure, I considered many classmates friends and even spent time with some of them off-campus. After graduation though, there was little left to say and we gradually lost touch. On campus, I spent my time reading and writing fixed within study carrels or reclined in quiet corners of the Albin O. Kuhn Library.
In the computer lab that morning, I watched CNN.com video of the destruction. I’m certain the low-res video arrived 30-to-40 minutes after the actual event; the Internet hadn’t yet become the real-time window into the world we’ve come to expect. Even baltimoresun.com was still called SunSpot.net (a website I’d intern for a few semesters later). Despite the delay, I felt as if I were witnessing the attack firsthand. Sitting among the quietly humming PCs, watching something unspeakable take place on thick, heavy monitors, the Internet had suddenly become more than just chat rooms and LimeWire downloads.
Later that semester, the silver-maned McGurrin and I walked the wide path toward University Center. As we approached, he opined on politics and paused when we observed an escalating altercation. A hostile student and a young Lyndon LaRouche supporter exchanged words. Along the politico’s table hung signs that read “9/11 was an inside job.” Voices raised to shouts and suddenly the folding table seemed to explode and fall to the ground. The angered student stormed off leaving the young activist scrambling for pamphlets and other paraphernalia. No one was hurt, but this sort of tension lingered for some time.
Despite the heightened anxiety in those long weeks after the attack (could a university be targeted next?), campus remained a dream-like place for me. As an English major, I focused on a collection of writing courses (poetry, narrative nonfiction, fiction, travel writing, feature writing) that encouraged a sort of self-indulgent rumination. I wrote hokey poems, overly dramatic short stories about troubled relationships and contemplated the world and my place in it.
After 9/11, news outlets realized the importance of maintaining a constant, up-to-the-minute web presence. That solemn morning spent in the computer lab and the culmination of my academic career led me to a place where working online came naturally and with a sense of importance.
For a long time, my mother would ask, “Do you still work for the Internet?” It was true then and it’s still true now. But it may never have come to be if weren’t for my time as a Retriever.