Those high school seniors who began school this week likely will be recognized some day as an important footnote in our nation's history.
Do you realize this year's seniors will be the first to have gone through their entire 12-year educational journey in the Age of Terror?
When today's seniors were entering the first grade at this time in 2002, our nation was less than a year removed from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that changed us all forever. Whatever may have been left of our country's innocence was officially taken from us that day, and it was reflected in how we looked at the world less than a year later.
I looked back in The Herald-Whig archives of August 2001, less than a month before the terrorist attacks. We were mostly concerned with back-to-school prices and the approaching football season.
Fast forward to August 2002, and the tone in the news was different. Sure, there were plenty of back-to-school stories, including information about first-grade classes -- the "kids" who are now young adults and about nine months away from entering the "real world." There were also football stories aplenty, plus a nice tribute to the memory of Elvis Presley on the 25-year anniversary of his death.
But there were also accounts carrying these kind of headlines:
"Sept. 11 families file $100 trillion lawsuit": Families of those who had lost loved ones in the Twin Towers and other attacks on Sept. 11 were suing Middle Eastern countries and agencies they felt played roles in the terrorism.
"America Remembers": It was the name given to a community rally in Quincy to honor those lost and their families on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
"U.S. detects largest Iraqi military buildup since Desert Storm": We all know what this led to.
"Quiet Remembrance": The Tri-State Lugnuts' annual Labor Day car show at the Illinois Veterans Home was planning a "quiet remembrance" of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Today's seniors have grown up with phrases like "terrorism," "Osama bin Laden" and "weapons of mass destruction" as a part of their everyday vocabulary and studies.
What has made this particular conflict so different than those of the past is there is no end in sight, and there may never be one. World War I, World War II, the Korean War, even the conflict in Vietnam ... they all had official endings. We may not have agreed with one (and possibly two) of them, but each had a definitive punctuation we could wrap our arms around.
More than a decade after Sept. 11, 2001, we are no closer to a final resolution than we were Sept. 12, 2001.
We may understand the enemy better, we may know how to combat him better, but we are no closer to an absolute victory than we were the day this year's senior class walked into their first-grade classrooms in 2002.
The saddest part of all of this? I probably will write a column just like this in 2026 when today's first-graders are beginning their senior year.