In six minutes on Sept. 11, 2001, Caitlin Beirne’s life changed forever — even before she had been born.
“My mom was pregnant with me during 9/11, and my father, who was an Air Force pilot for 23 years, was flying an 8 a.m. commercial shuttle from Boston to La Guardia that day,” said Beirne, a sophomore from Long Island, N.Y., who lives in Dunster House. “He turned around the World Trade Center towers about six minutes before the first tower was hit.” Soon he would be deployed to the Middle East for six years.
Beirne and many of her Harvard College classmates are among the nearly quarter of the American population who were either not alive or are too young to remember the day or how different a place the world was before 9/11. They grew up with elements of the fallout as part of their daily lives: long-term military engagements in the Middle East, expanded security measures everywhere, and conspiracy theories of a staged catastrophe or an inside job.
Beirne’s life was marked by the terrorist attacks in part because of her father’s subsequent absence and then by seeing her older brother join a ROTC program in college — all of which led her to join Air Force ROTC at MIT with plans to become a pilot after graduation.
As she was growing up, she forged community connections to local first responders, including police officers and firefighters whose efforts she knew saved lives, sometimes at a cost.
Beirne, a Theater, Dance & Media concentrator, has been giving back to local first responder groups for years. She has sung at 9/11 memorial events regularly since seventh grade, including those put on by the FeelGood Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for federal legislation to provide benefits to veterans and first responders suffering from health problems incurred during and after 9/11 operations.
“Being able to sing for and speak with people who did lose loved ones or were themselves first responders has just given me a whole new perspective that I didn’t have before,” said Beirne.