September 21, 2001

Students in D.C. React to Tragedy

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Ten days after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania that shook the world, Cornell-in-Washington students said the prevailing hysteria in Capitol Hill offices is abating as the city returns to its routine.

All 41 students involved in the program have resumed their externships at various federal agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Craig Goldman ’03 said the worst scene he witnessed in person was at the White House gates, as he was headed to his externship at Talk Radio News and heard a plane hit the Pentagon.

“There was lots of chaos,” he said. “Someone said ‘run,’ and the Secret Service started pushing everyone back. The streets flooded with people evacuating buildings, which created traffic gridlock. It was quite a scene.”

Due to the commotion, Goldman was the last Cornell-in-Washington student to return safely to the Cornell Center near Dupont Circle late in the afternoon of Sept. 11.

“Like most people, I was in a state of denial about what happened,” he said, adding that he felt a little scared to suddenly realize how vulnerable he was living in D.C.

Michael Norman ’03 recalled how he went from feeling enthusiastic about his new externship to lucky that he made it home alive that day.

He recalled seeing plumes of smoke billowing in the distance from his vantage point on Capitol Hill, where he works for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

He said it was “surreal” seeing F-16 aircrafts hovering in the air in the aftermath. He was also surprised to return to work a few days later only to encounter constant bomb threat evacuations.

The D.C. police bomb squad has fielded hundreds of calls since Sept. 11, requiring officers to evacuate buildings that have received bomb threats and bring in bomb-sniffing dogs to check suspicious packages, The Washington Post reported.

Although the number of bomb threats is decreasing, Norman predicted security interruptions would continue for a while longer.

“The security is working like crazy and everyone is on heightened alert,” he said.

Linda J. Johnson, executive director for the Cornell-in-Washington program, said a few classes were canceled the week of the tragedy, but most activities continued on schedule.

She recalled how most of students in the program trooped through the downtown area late last week to meet with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg.

“Ginsberg’s message was: each of us has a responsibility to go on with our jobs in the aftermath of the tragedy,” Johnson said.

“We’ve tried to follow that idea,” she added.

The Cornell-in-Washington program has also offered counseling sessions, which a few students have been using, although none were directly affected by the terrorist attacks, she said.

The number of dead or missing in last week’s attack on the Pentagon is 184, according to The Washington Post.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts