The terror attacks of 9/11 affected Americans in countless ways.
Nearly 3,000 lives were lost, including Eileen Marsha Greenstein of Morris Plains. She was among nine residents of Greater Morristown, and 64 from Morris County, killed on that cloudless Tuesday morning 17 years ago.
Andrew Kramar’s close call at the North Tower of the World Trade Center prompted a career change that eventually led him to the Morris Plains Borough School–where on Tuesday he delivered advice to pupils born years after hijacked planes destroyed the Twin Towers, damaged the Pentagon and crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
“Do not let Sept. 11th become nearly another historical event in your social studies textbook. Know that these attacks were different,” the principal told students of the grade 3-8 school.
“Use this reminder as a spark for positive change, no matter how small. I challenge each and every one of you, young and old, to make the world a kinder, more caring, more compassionate place to live,” Kramar said.
The morning program had been scheduled for the borough’s 9/11 Memorial Park, where a charred chunk of North Tower steel stands. Wet weather moved the ceremony into the school.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover over image for captions:
Students participated. Carmine Tonero played Taps on his trumpet, as veterans and police saluted. Mary Bowers, Keira Riley and Allison Wilbur sang the National Anthem; Riley and Selenya Bautista sang America the Beautiful, and Monisha Patel led everyone in God Bless America. Cricket Vander Ploeg and Trey Stahl took the podium and attempted to reflect on events that adults still grapple to comprehend.
Mayor Frank Druetzler recounted the “sense of disbelief” that followed the attacks, and the eerie feeling when the “background noise of life was silenced” by suspended air travel.
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26th Dist.), a Morris Plains resident, somberly predicted that challenges rivaling the horrors of 9/11 are inevitable.
“When those times come, may we act as Americans always have, and like we did on Sept. 11, 2001, with a love of others that transcends fear and hatred, and a steadfast commitment to our beloved country that remains humanity’s last, best hope,” said Webber, a Congressional candidate in the 11th District.
‘DO YOUR BEST TO CHANGE THIS’
Kramar was a 26-year-old marketing manager for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, taking the PATH train from Hoboken to the World Trade Center, when that “pristine, picture-perfect” late-summer morning unraveled.
He arrived at the mall below the towers around the time the first plane struck the North Tower, where he worked on the 17th floor.
Underground, the extent of the situation was not yet clear. Kramar tried to proceed into a tower entrance, but was turned back. Then he tried to exit the mall to street level. A policeman stopped him.
“I was in the mall when the South Tower was struck,” Kramar told Morristown Green. Although he did not feel the plane’s impact, “I could tell something happened, because people were screaming and yelling. It was total calm before that, and then it was just chaos.”
A wheelchair-bound acquaintance never escaped the North Tower. Another friend who arrived one train earlier made it to street level–where he saw people jump to their deaths. The friend barely outpaced the cloud of ash when the first tower collapsed.
Kramer caught the E subway line to Greenwich Village and took a PATH train back to Hoboken, arriving in time to see the billowing smoke of the crashing towers across the Hudson River.
That day spurred him to re-think his life. He coached youth hockey, and parents always suggested he was a natural teacher.
“I never really took it to heart until that day to really try and make a change in my career,” said Kramar.
“I really felt like my work…didn’t make a difference. Marketing is great, but at the end of the day I don’t think it really matters the exact color blue that goes on a brochure,” he said.
He earned a teaching certificate, taught math and science in Upper Saddle River and served as an assistant principal in Montvale before coming to the Borough School five years ago.
Though his salary “took a hit” at first, Kramar said he finds his adopted profession more satisfying.
Coincidentally, Kramar said, 9/11 prompted his wife Tracey to leave the public schools. A kindergarten teacher on New York’s Upper West Side, “she had kids who lost their parents, and that sparked her transition into medicine.”
She became a physician assistant, and now teaches in that program at Pace University. The Bergen County couple have two children, Emma, 4, and Dylan, 6.
Kramar told his Borough School pupils “a day never goes by” without him thinking of his luck on 9/11, and about those who never came home. The American way of life was attacked, he said, because of hatred–and that’s only getting worse.
“Do your best to change this,” the principal urged them.
“Do not leave it up to others. You yourself need to be the positive change… Do your part each and every day. Treat each other with respect. Embrace each other’s differences and be tolerant of those who might believe or think something different than yourself.
“Think twice before you say or do something mean or hurtful. Realize that we are all better off when love, kindness and acceptance are our guiding forces.”