In late March 2014, 25 full-time MBA students and their partners had the privilege to visit the World Trade Center development site and the 9/11 Memorial. Hosted by leaders at Silverstein Properties Inc., the real estate company that has been redeveloping the site for the past 12 years, the tour represented a unique opportunity for members of the Wharton Veterans Club whose lives were significantly changed following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The diverse Wharton Veterans Club consists of former service members of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, along with the Australian Defense Force and Korean and Israeli militaries. Most members of the club began their service after 9/11 and have experience serving in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan and Asia as helicopter pilots, intelligence officers, SEALs, Special Forces Rangers, F-22 pilots, infantry, submariners and engineers. The majority of the group had never visited the 9/11 Memorial or the World Trade Center before.
Our tour started at the first tower built following the September 11 attack: World Trade Center 7. Mike Marcucci, the producer of the film 16 Acres, the documentary about rebuilding at Ground Zero, hosted our group and shared details of the redevelopment. The trip quickly proved to also be a special behind-the-scenes event from a security, real estate and business perspective.
We visited the expansive marketing center, where potential tenants and visitors to the new World Trade Center are shown the history and the vision for the future of the site, including information about the security measures and architecture behind each of the new buildings. From there, we had an incredible view, inaccessible to the public, of the memorial pools at the 9/11 Memorial Park and much of the construction taking place.
“We have seen the videos of that dreadful morning hundreds of times, but standing there, looking into the footprints of the original twin towers at the 9/11 Memorial, is a surreal moment that no one ever forgets. I know I won’t,” says second-year MBA student Grant Moody, a U.S. Marine who pursued an internship in consulting this summer.
The 9/11 Memorial Park opened on the tragic attack’s 10th anniversary. Its two magnificent pools sit in the original locations of the North and South tower foundations. New construction, built over 16 acres of lower Manhattan, surrounds it.
“The names at the 9/11 Memorial came alive for me because we know so many of their stories,” Moody recounts. “The business executive leaving a voicemail for his wife and kids from the 88th floor. The young analyst going back up the stairs in the tower to help his friends. The firemen who raced up the twin towers to help evacuate the injured. These aren’t simply anonymous names. Their stories will live forever at that memorial.”
Those stories were made even more real for us when we met someone who lived through them. Michael Moore, the life safety director of Silverstein Properties, escorted us for part of our day and told the remarkable story about his time as a New York fireman. He witnessed the 9/11 attacks and participated in recovery efforts at Ground Zero. He is now responsible for the safety of the new towers going up on the site and their tenants.
Meeting Moore was the highlight for second-year MBA student John Withers, a former U.S. Army Special Operations helicopter pilot.
“His efforts, and those of his team and all the volunteers, were truly heroic as they worked to save lives, including some of his closest friends. He’s a national hero, and it was our honor to be able to listen to his story,” Withers says.
During our visit with Silverstein Properties, we donned construction vests, hard hats and boots as we made our way across the construction site. We visited the new office space at Tower 4 and took in the 360-degree view of New York City from the 68th floor. Outside on a terrace, we glimpsed an up-close view of Tower 1, more commonly referred to as the “Freedom Tower.”
What was most poignant about this visit to hallowed ground was the realization of how much our lives changed on that day in 2001. We paused to remember our friends and fellow comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice and reflected on our resilience. It was a powerful day to be remembered by all who attended.
Amy Daschle, WG’14, served five years as a U.S. Army engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan and two years as a sales and marketing manager at PepsiCo prior to Wharton. Since graduating, she works in strategy consulting in Philadelphia. She was a recipient of the Class of 2014 Core Value Leadership Award. She wrote this essay while still a student in the Wharton MBA Program.