To the Editor:
Ten years ago I was a new lower at Phillips Academy. When you’re that far out of high school it’s hard to recall the academic calendar exactly, but I consider my first day of class to be September 11, 2001. That day changed the world, and my life, forever.
Since the attacks Andover has taught me three indispensable lessons. The first was clear that very day: we cannot pretend we are isolated by geography or time. At 8:45 a.m. I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center towers were, by 10:30 a.m. they had collapsed along with my narrow worldview. Those attacks originated in a myriad of countries and could trace their beginnings to before I was born. Andover is a global community that demands its students to be conscious of the world around them, so it was exactly where I needed to be at that moment.
The second lesson is that “non sibi” is more than a pair of Latin words next to a beehive. Many of the victims of 9/11 died simply because they were trying to help others; they were firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and valiant strangers. Andover is an exemplary institution because it had been encouraging students to embody the same spirit as those heroes even before the attacks.
The third lesson is that “no assumptions, know assumptions” is not just a clever pun about overcoming prejudice, it’s a way of life. Assumptions are the first step on the road to disaster; we once assumed that America was safe from the designs of a few determined zealots suffering delusions of grandeur. We also cannot ignore the innumerable insidious and dubious assumptions that proliferate about America; the absurd assumption that America is an enemy of Islam is at the core of every fanatic’s ideology.
I now work at an international development firm in Afghanistan. My projects focus on enhancing the stability of that country so that the coalition can leave a credible and durable government behind when we depart. It’s not an easy job, but I figure there’s no point getting a Phillips Academy education if you only want the easy jobs. I’m not the only alumnus who feels that way; I am honored by all of my ’04 classmates who have also chosen to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, especially those in the military.
I know it’s not popular these days, but I believe in the morality and ultimate victory of our mission precisely because of those lessons I learned at Andover. After meeting so many Afghans who suffered so brutally under the Taliban, I could not forsake them and honestly presume to embrace the spirit of “non sibi.” The assumption that this war cannot be won is destructive and totally at odds with conditions on the ground. However, we cannot win this war with bombs and bullets alone; we must use development projects to identify and rectify the erroneous assumptions that many Afghans harbor about the coalition and the Afghan government to achieve victory. Finally, we cannot pretend that departing Afghanistan will allow us to close the book on this chapter of our history. This world is too small to ignore even the dusty mountains of the Hindu Kush; we did exactly that after defeating the Soviets in the 80’s and paid a dear price for it.
Ten years is a long time. I’d guess the oldest seniors were eight when the towers fell, the youngest juniors just three. I cannot reflect on where I was that morning without wondering what 9/11 means to Andover today. Do the students understand why we are in Afghanistan? Do they know what sacrifices have been made to keep them safe and why? Do they understand how the lessons they are learning are relevant beyond campus? I hope so; Andover and its students have too much to offer to ignore the past, present and future of the struggle that defined this decade.
-Taylor Yates ‘04