The 16 second-graders who were in room 301 of Emma E. Booker Elementary School with former president George W. Bush on 9/11 are now high school seniors.
As the ten-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center approaches, the group reflected on the experience of being present while the president received news that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers.
The students talked about growing up in the shadow of the war on terror and how it has affected their lives.
“One kid described his face as (like) he had to use the bathroom,” senior at Sarasota Military Academy Chantal Guerrero said of Bush’s reaction after someone whispered in his ear that the United States was under attack.
“That's how we saw it in second grade. He just looked like he got the worst news in the world,” she told AP.
On that fateful day in Sarasota, Florida, the second-grade class, awarded as the school’s best readers, was chosen to have a read-along with the president. The class read The Pet Goat while Bush followed along.
They admit that they did not realize the magnitude of the situation as children, but the World Trade Center attacks served as a beacon of their coming of age.
“As I began to age and mature, it helped me gain a new perspective of the world and it helped me mature faster, as I began to understand that there are politics and wars and genocides that occur daily throughout the world. It helped me come to a realization that the world is not a perfect place,” said Lazaro Dubrocq, senior at Riverview High School.
The school’s then-principal, Gwen Tose'-Rigell, who died in 2007, was one of many who defended the president’s decision to not leave the school immediately.
She, along with Kay Daniels, a teacher at the program, and President Bush agreed that at the moment, it was best to keep the children in their care calm.
Gwen’s son Stevenson Tose'-Rigell was also present on that day.
“She knows kids, obviously, and she knows how kids react, and Bush did the best that he could by remaining calm, not going hysterical or anything like that and really just making a smooth transition,” Rigell, a fifth grader at the time, told the AP.
In 2006, president gave a video address to the faculty and students of Booker Elementary to commemorate of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In the address, he spoke about the connection he will always have with the 16 students in that second-grade reading class.
“All Americans remember where they were when they first heard about the terrible attack on our nation,” Bush said. “And I will always remember being with you.”