ST PAUL, Minn. — Instead of taking the day off to celebrate her 60th birthday, Kari Rise, reflected on her personal milestone like she has for more than two decades; by delivering several lengthy lectures recounting the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
"It can definitely be a lot, knowing each birthday that I'll be giving this very somber lesson," Rise said. "But students really need to hear it from someone who was here and what that day was like here, in their space at their school."
Rise was teaching in the exact same classroom inside St Paul's Highland Park Senior High, on the morning of the attacks 22 years ago, and for the last 21 years she has set aside the anniversary for a special lecture that mixes history and personal reflection.
"I turn on the television and we see the second plane going into the tower," Rise said. "Everybody knew, at that moment, we were being attacked. At that time, in the early years, it was a way to process what had happened, to draw meaning from that terrible tragedy."
In recent years, that same lecture, has helped give new meaning to a date that a new generation never lived through.
"September 11th, 2001, happened 7 to 8 years before these students were born," Rise said. "That morning, nobody had a cell phone and nobody called their parent. Parents weren't even really calling the school."
Those simple observations, about the confusion and communication issues that reverberated throughout the nation on that day, and the days that followed, have resonated loudest in recent years.
"I was just picturing myself in that classroom and I can't imagine not being able to text my mom," said Analiese Schneider, a sophomore at Highland Park.
"Ms. Rise mentioned, after it happened, people were printing off posters, of their loved ones in hopes of finding them," said sophomore Sam Schultz. "It made me realize the internet wasn't like it is today, and just not being able to find somebody that you loved, would be very scary."
For others, Rise's detailed breakdown of the timeline and the fears that quickly arose, provided a new perspective.
"I immigrated here with my mother from Ethiopia in 2016, so only around that time did I start hearing about terrorist attacks and 9/11," said sophomore Nuhamin Melese. "It was very interesting to hear Ms. Rise talk about the attacking our (financial, military and political) symbols because I had thought it was just the twin towers."
"That was interesting, how it was also a psychological attack almost," Schultz said. "I had never thought about that before."
And if you're wondering how long this lesson will linger, Rise says she just heard from a group of students who reminded her of it's impact.
"I ran into three former students this weekend and they're like 28 years old now," Rise said. "They said, 'Oh, tomorrow is 9/11 and it's your birthday. I'll never forget your 9/11 lecture. That's what keeps me motivated. It's my birthday present to the future."
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