NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The fact is, American children have grown up in the age of 9/11 and the idea of terrorism. They are eyewitnesses in person and on television. 

Much of last year’s 2019 high school graduating class was born in 2001, and all of this hit home during Norfolk Academy’s 2019 graduation ceremony. 

Headmaster Dennis Manning had been on the job at Norfolk Academy about a week when his attention turned to a TV on that dreadful morning, Sept. 11, 2001.

“I remember it well… I’ll never forget it. We had a parent advisory council meeting and we were all watching this as it unfolded before us… I think it’s just hard to describe, and I think we all had a hard time verbalizing it.” 

Born in 2001, Norfolk Academy seniors were graduating 18 years later in 2019.  

“What a harbinger, when you think about the start of their lives and the arc of a life as an origin of starting,” Manning said about 9/11, and the start of the lives of those students.

The arc of life includes being “witnesses to terror.” 

“They have seen a lot of man’s inhumanity to man, and I’m sorry to put it in that way,” he said. 

On May 30, 2019, the night before graduation, Manning addressed the seniors and their parents recognizing the role terror had played in their lives. In addition to 9/11 Manning gave a roll call on school shootings during their 18 years of living.

“From Virginia Tech to Newtown, to Penn State, to the Boston Marathon, to Charleston, to Orlando, to Las Vegas, to Stoneman Douglas, to Tree of Life Synagogue, I mean it’s a chilling roll call.”

Manning called it “grim irony.”

The very next day after that speech on terrorism, during commencement exercises, terror would raise its ugly head again. During the graduation ceremony, 12 people were gunned down and killed in Building 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

“I don’t know if I have ever had as wide and emotional swift snapback as I’ve ever had in that very moment.” 

12 people died while the Norfolk Academy graduation ceremony exercises were taking place.

“It is as deep a despair as I remember having, and I think the depth just intensified by the fact that the extraordinary joy and exuberance we were having just minutes earlier.” 

In the age of terrorism, everything is fine, and then everything is not.  

“You could start to think maybe they have been somehow diminished by this, but absolutely to the contrary,” Manning said.

Manning thinks the darkness of terror does not define us to hate, but to hope, and in the hope, there is light.

“If anything, the way the students have responded to redouble their own efforts in terms of engaging with the community, and with each other.  They constantly are demonstrating the humanity contrary to the graphic scenes of terror they have seen and witnessed.” 

In the end, Manning calls it the “glad grace” of students.

Latest Posts: