Drawing Parallels between 9/11 and COVID-19

How do Friars respond during crises? Fenwick has asked the alumni community to share memories of when the world seemed upside down and how, we as a community, responded.

This Fenwick alumnus, who visited campus back in February, remembers the traumatic period following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — and has an important message for today’s students.

By Dave West ’98

World Trade Center, NYC: the dreadful day the “Twin Towers” fell.

I was a senior at Duke preparing for a public policy class when the attacks of 9/11 jolted us all around breakfast time on a Tuesday morning. School abruptly shut down as did the country, and we quickly learned over the next few, confusing days that several graduated fraternity brothers, parents of classmates and thousands of others were killed in the towers, in the planes or in the Pentagon.

As a senior, thoughts quickly turned to what other attacks were next; how we’d ever get back to life as usual; whether there would be any jobs for us; and even whether a military draft might be brought back and we would all need to prepare to fight a new enemy halfway around the world. Our grandparents were “the greatest generation”… would we be good enough and up to the challenge?

Parallels to the present pandemic

The U.S. Pentagon on 9/11/01.

The answer was a huge, “Yes” then, and it will be again now. Despite the trauma of that day and the months that followed, the country persevered. I recommend students use this current pandemic shock to step back a bit and think about their goals, purpose and what they really want out of the next five, next 10, next few decades.

In my case, 9/11 was a catalyst to immediately pivot to pursue grad school and national security public service. I was able to serve in Washington and work with over 50 allied countries in counter-terror and anti-terror cooperation efforts. A friend of mine from Duke, lacrosse star Jimmy Regan, turned down a Wall Street job and enlist in the special forces, giving his life years later as a hero on the battlefield and inspiring us all even today. Others became doctors/researchers, teachers or strong executives building new companies, etc. 

The 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City.

I want to underscore to the students that people generally, and our economy and country in particular, are incredibly resilient. Families, economies and life as we know it are taking a hit right now due to the pandemic, but we will come out on the other side of it. The world will need Fenwick people to help lead and deal with the uncertainty, so we should all stay focused, positive and ensure we’re ready when needed.  

Health and safety to all.

About the Author

Dave West, Fenwick 1998

Dave West was with U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security and now works at tech firm ECS. After earning a BA (econ/public policy) from Duke University, he received an MS in international relations from the London School of Economics & Political Science and an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from the University of Chicago.

How Do Friars Respond During Crises?

Fenwick asks the Alumni Community to share memories of when the world seemed upside down and how, we as a community, responded. We want to hear from you about your experiences living through crisis. Please email communications@fenwickfriars.com to share your story.

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