This week, the world will look back to a calamitous day, twenty years ago, when the world changed immeasurably in the course of just a few short minutes. The 11th of September, 2001 became forever marked that morning as a black-letter day in the history of not only the United States, but the world as a whole. Its repercussions and aftershocks are still resounding in our nation’s discourse, our policies, and our daily lives, and will continue to do so for years to come.

The events of the past weeks have reminded us of the persistence of that day’s influence on our world, as new reports emerge daily from Afghanistan – still today, we continue drafting the latest chapter in this twenty-year story.

We speak of “watershed moments” – those irreversible points in our lives when something happens that changes the future course of our lives. We see them as starting points, singular occurrences that kick off dramatic changes. But, the reality is that these watersheds are seldom, if ever, the starting points of their own stories.

In my newest book, “Reckless Misfortune, The Century We Inherited from the First World War” I explore the ways in which an event which far preceded 9/11 – the First World War – shaped much of the subsequent century. It’s not too far of a stretch to draw a line from the trenches of Europe in 1914 to that shocking morning 20 years ago, with many connecting elements in that line over the decades. Our history is not a collection of events, but rather a continuous chain of causes and effects and choices and consequences – some immediate and some taking years to become evident.

The aphorism, “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it,” remains true. Understanding the world of today requires understanding the world of yesterday, and preparing for the world of tomorrow will require comprehension of how today’s actions shape future experiences.

For our part as educators, we can do no better service to our students than to provide them with a space in which they can explore the history and the context of the things that happen around them and empower them as change agents for the Common Good, now and in the future. To serve as historians of our respective fields, passing along the lessons of our own and past generations. To encourage discussion of current realities and critical thinking about the long-term effects of those realities, and the options before us that will impact our collective future.

Change is constant, and only occasionally does a single event provide a locus for understanding the truth. As we remember the lives that were destroyed on September 11, 2001 and those forever changed in the years to follow, let us remember not only the terrifying images of collapsing towers, or the inspiring courage of those who responded to the threat to our nation, but also of that day’s place in history. Of the ways it changed us – as a nation, as a people, and as citizens of the world.

I invite you to join me wherever you are on Friday, September 10, at 8:30 am for a moment of silence in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of this day in history. Let us remember, so that we may learn and teach and build a strong, secure and peaceful future for our communities and for the world.