Working at the 9/11 Memorial: Through the Eyes of a Communications Intern

People mill about the 9/11 Memorial plaza on a summer's day. The sun shines through the trees.
Photo by Jin S. Lee

As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I’ve found that there are some things true New Yorkers never need to learn: how to drive, how to memorize the subway map, how to find the nearest dollar pizza. There’s a silent, intuitive understanding that we all share a deep and inexplicable love for the things that other people can’t stand (see: crowded subway cars, loud music, restaurants with questionable health ratings), but we also share that love for each other. New Yorkers aren’t scared off easily, and we’re loyal to our city in a way that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

I left New York City to go to college upstate and learn about things that are usually taught in classrooms: conceptual artforms, literary theories, classic books. While I was there, one of my favorite writing teachers said to me, “The objective of an education is to become more human.” It was one of those offhand comments that stuck with me, and when I returned home after graduation, I started thinking about how genuinely human this city is.

I grew up with an “I Love NY More Than Ever” poster hanging in my parents’ kitchen. It was a special version of the classic “I Love NY” poster, one that was created after 9/11. In this version of the poster there’s a dark bruise on the iconic red heart, and a note at the bottom that says, “BE GENEROUS. YOUR CITY NEEDS YOU. THIS POSTER IS NOT FOR SALE.”

There aren’t many things that can speak for a city of 8 million people, but I believe this poster is one of them. It’s simple, but it speaks to the wordless empathy that New Yorkers have for one another. From the outside, New York can seem cold—I’ve read writers from other places describe it as lonely and soulless—but from the inside it’s the kindest and most genuine example of a community that I’ve ever been a part of.

It’s impossible to explain the impact of 9/11 without fixating on the profound grief this city felt as a whole, but it’s also impossible to forget the love and support that New Yorkers offered each other in the aftermath.

Working as the communications intern for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum was more meaningful than I could’ve imagined. This position gave me the chance to hear and share countless stories, and though no two stories are the same, there are common threads that connect how each person experienced that morning. Each person can tell you exactly where they were when they saw or heard about the attack; each person can tell you how the sky looked that morning, as the planes hit the towers; each person can tell you how they’ve lived differently in the 19 years since.

As an institution, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is on a genuine mission to honor these thoughts and stories. This space is constantly growing and changing with the needs of those who lost loved ones on that day, and it was incredible to witness how the staff here works to create an accessible space for the millions of people who come here to mourn and heal.

It’s an understatement to say that this is an unusual place to work, but I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of this incredible space for connecting and healing. My internship went deeper than working on a project or an article; the Memorial and the Museum are both spaces that are shamelessly and beautifully human. In the wake of horrendous loss and devastation, this place was created as a testament to the spirit of New York City, and I’m incredibly proud to have worked here.

By Julia Carmel, Former Communications Intern, 9/11 Memorial & Museum

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