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Authentic Eagles: Frankie Paleno on Following Heroes

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Frankie Paleno,  A&S ’15

“On September 10th you were eight years old, but on September 12th you were much older.” I saw the anguish behind the tears in my mother’s eyes as she told me this. We were discussing 9/11 for the first time as I held an application to the United States Naval Academy in my hand. The essay question was, “Why do you want to serve?”

I woke up early for school, just like every other day, and completed my morning routine. Only today was special. Today, I was able to walk downstairs and see my mother before she caught her train to work, so I kissed her goodbye and waved as she took a car to the train station. She was working incredibly hard at her job in NYC, and, due to her long hours, I rarely saw her on weekdays.

I got a ride to school and was ready to begin another day of elementary school. Everything was perfectly normal as we began our vocabulary lesson, but we never finished this lesson. It was cut short by an announcement that all classes must report to the gym and library. I was excited because I hated vocabulary lessons, but this euphoria wouldn’t last.

My class walked into the library, and it was only then that I sensed something was wrong because all of the adults in the room looked incredibly nervous and were whispering to each other. My principal called a few people into his office, and I was one of them. The sound of my name still resonates in my head, and the look of terror on his face is seared into my memory.

His voice shook as he told us, “I have some bad news. There was an attack on the City; we felt that you should all know what is happening. I would like you to call a parent or friend so that you can go home. If you need anything I am here to help, God Bless.” I was frozen.

After calling my dad and going home with family friends, it was then that I saw it. I watched a plane fly into the World Trade Center on television. Words cannot describe how overwhelmed I was as I watched loops of planes flying into buildings and people jumping out of the World Trade Center. I sat hysterically crying because I was convinced the collapsing buildings swallowed up my mother and the countless firemen and police officers that ran toward the chaos.

Hours later I returned home, and it wasn’t until very late at night that I heard a knock on the door. I ran to see my dad supporting someone as they crossed into the threshold of our house, and thank God in heaven it was my mother. She collapsed onto the floor and I noticed she was covered in a thick layer of soot. The grime on her face mixed with her tears and hardened by her chin into an unknown blackish, brown solid. I hugged her and more soot fell from her hair and lifted from her clothes. Through the night I could hear her sobbing uncontrollably, and no one in that house slept.

This is the part of the story I want to focus on, as it is an ideal that has motivated me every single day since. Forget those evil people who decided to hijack planes and fly them into office buildings. Instead, I choose to remember the sheer resilience demonstrated by countless people that day. My mother, without a wink of sleep or time to recover, was back in NYC bright and early the next morning to help restore the communications necessary for the markets to function. She was escorted by the military as she entered what looked like a war zone to play a significant part in the rebuilding of our country’s economy. She, like many others, was able to shake off one of the most devastating terror attacks in history because of her dedication and resolve to something greater than herself.

Countless emergency response people demonstrated an utter disregard for their own well being as they charged into the World Trade Center to save the lives of complete strangers. Countless men and women dug frantically for days to find survivors despite the obvious danger of working in the wake of carnage that resulted from that day. It is their actions that made strangers become brothers and sisters and gave the United States of America the courage to unite, get back up, and take evil on.

All of these people demonstrated a deep and unwavering love for each other and bond as people living under the same red, white and blue flag. The heroic actions performed by these people still fuel my resolve to act in a similar manner. Their golden standard of courage, resilience, commitment, and selflessness is something I hope to portray to my own family, and something I hope to portray to those who read this story. 9/11 serves as the ultimate example of people sacrificing their individual interest for the benefit of something larger than themselves, because striving to embody the values those heroes possess is the best way to honor their memory.

The world hasn’t been the same since. The images of 9/11 have scarred me deeper than anything else in my life, and have dramatically impacted our generation. It has been over 13 years, and I am still blown away with emotion when I think about it. It has been over 13 years, and I still strive to serve my community, whether it is my family, my friends, or Boston College. There are few things I am more proud of than trying to live every day like the heroes of September 11th, and I cherish BC for producing this type of person.