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Overcoming Tragedy with the Help of My Sisters
Posted On: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 08:31 AM, by Julie Griffin
When I was just nine years old, my father saved many people on September 11, 2001. Then just nine years later, Theta saved me.Let me take you back. It is the first week of school, and I am a 9-year-old in the fourth grade. It started out as an average day with my father waking up early as usual. He quietly showers, gets dressed, and sneaks out the door, as to not disturb us while my sister, mother, and I continue to sleep. Hours later, we wake up and start our usual morning routine. Once we have eaten, my mother hands us our lunch bags and shuffles us off to the car to drop us off at school. It is a beautiful fall day, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, to be exact. The morning had been typical, with nothing out of the ordinary, but that average day by mid-morning had changed to tragedy. Tragedy to this day I still struggle to understand.
Word of a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center had begun to spread throughout the school. Being only 9, I didn’t understand the enormity of the events taking place, so I carried on with my day as usual. A short time later, my sister and I were called out of our classes for an early dismissal, so I packed up my belongings and happily headed down to the main office. Upon arriving home, I thought maybe we were having a party because everyone important in my life—aunts and uncles, grandparents, and many close family friends—were sitting in my house. It could not have been further from the truth. I spotted my mother out of the corner of my eye, sobbing and practically hugging the phone. My grandfather gently pulled my sister and I aside and with a pained face explained to us that our father was among those missing at the World Trade Center. Okay, I thought to myself, I was certain my father would be home by dinner maybe a little late because of a hard work day. We will find him and everything will be fine, he’s invincible, there was nothing my father couldn’t overcome.
A few days later, around 6 p.m., I poked my head out the door anxious to see if my dad was walking home from the train station. But all I saw was emptiness; there was no one there. Right then, right there, I felt that pain in my stomach, I felt tons of metal and ash falling down on me, I felt an airplane in the side of my head, I felt my flesh burning. Right then, right there, I knew my father had died. The years following the loss of my father were filled with confusion.
I struggled to find my place in this new life, a life without my father in it. Although I was expected to continue on, I felt empty as if there was a huge part of me missing. Everything was hard for me, like getting on stage at my dance recitals, small things like putting up a Christmas tree and especially going to college. However, I knew that I couldn’t let this tragedy control my life. I had to leave my family, my backbone, behind as I continued on with the next chapter of my life—college.
The first semester of college was difficult for me. September 11 came around and I was alone in Florida where it was as if nothing had ever happened. I was here in a new city without my family; that’s when I knew it was time to find a home away from home. I found Theta, a group of women that exemplified all of the same morals I did, and I saw how passionate these women were. They had me at hello. These women were honest, passionate, charitable, and caring; these are characteristics I knew my father would be proud of.
I joined Theta in the spring semester of my freshman year. Not many of them knew my story, but as much as I don’t let 9/11 define me, it is part of who I am. That following fall, I got the email giving us the dates of formal recruitment. Preference Night fell on September 11. I went up to my president and told her I didn’t know if I would be able to be there or not because of how emotional of a day it was for me, especially without my family. She simply said, “Don’t you worry about it and know we are all here for you.” That when I decided I was going to Preference Night because I didn’t want to be alone on that day. My father wouldn’t want that.
I went to Preference Night; I laughed, smiled, and cried. I looked around the room and saw 120 girls whom I called my sisters. I realized I was with family all along. Later that evening at our Bid Day celebration, my president got up on a chair and asked the chapter to pause for a moment of silence for a woman in the chapter who lost her father in the 9/11 tragedy. I was shocked at first but so appreciative. After every girl lifted her head, I said, “Thanks, I love you girls.” At that moment, I was bombarded with hugs and I never felt alone at school again.
Almost three years later, I am certainly the woman my father would be proud of. I am a passionate, ambitious, open-minded, brave, kind, and of course, I am a Theta. I am now the chief operations officer of my chapter, holding my sisters to their highest potential so that no bump in the road will be able to stop them. Theta changed my life. Theta made me realize that just because my life has had some pretty unexpected life changing challenges that doesn’t mean I can’t be a successful person. Being a Theta and having 120 sisters by my side has pushed me to my fullest potential. Theta pushed me out of the slump that September 11 pushed me into. And now there is nothing that can bring me down, simply because my sisters will be there to catch me.
Julie Griffin, Eta Tau/Tampa, is a senior and serves as the chief operating officer for her chapter.
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