College Students React To Bin Laden's Death

They were only 10 or 12 years old at the time of the 9/11 attacks, but this week, college students are among the most fired up about news of Osama Bin Laden's death. Facebook and Twitter helped propel flash mobs into the street. But many young people, who have spent more than half their lives at war, are struggling to make sense of the world they inherited and are asking where to go from here

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

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Most U.S. college students were only in middle school at the time of the September 11th attacks, barely aware of what their parents were crying about. But this week, those college students have been among the most outspoken, even excited about Osama bin Laden's death.

As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, they're celebrating the news even as they struggle to sort out what it means.

TOVIA SMITH: They ran out of their dorms Sunday night faster than you could tweet Osama bin Laden.

(Soundbite of people singing)

Unidentified Group: (singing) Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.

SMITH: Trash talking bin Laden like they might a rival football team, flash mobs turned out from Indiana State to Boston University, where junior Adam Evan Angle(ph) was one of about 5,000 on Boston Common marking what he calls the slaying of the chief villain of his childhood.

Mr. ADAM EVAN ANGLE (Student, Boston University): So I grew up under the specter of Osama bin Laden as the boogeyman. He was our Lord Vuldemort, if you will, like in Harry Potter, you know. He was pretty much the face of evil.

SMITH: As kids, Angle says, it was hard to understand why the good guys weren't getting the bad guy. BU sophomore Santiago Gomez says it's why students had such a visceral reaction to this week's news.

Mr. SANTIAGO GOMEZ (Student, Boston University): You know, at a really large level, this ominous cloud, one way or another, has been pierced and there is a beacon of hope.

SMITH: Many students gave props to the president who campaigned on hope and who was already something of a generational hero even before he slayed the dragon. But others were troubled by the kind of flash mob victory jig.

Dr. Ken Elmore (Dean, Boston University): And so all I'm gonna ask is, what was that about?

SMITH: BU Dean Ken Elmore met with about 200 students yesterday as a kind of post-mortem requested by students who were confused or disturbed by the celebrations.

Mr. DANIEL LOPEZ (Student, Boston University): I was so ashamed of our generation yesterday. I - oh, my God, it made me sick.

SMITH: BU sophomore Daniel Lopez says young people should understand better than any the power of an image tweeted instantly around the world.

Mr. LOPEZ: How about you put it this way, I'm a nine-year-old kid now in the Middle East. Mom, dad, what's going on? Oh, American's are cheering because someone died. Congratulations, guys. There's probably gonna be a new generation of Islamic jihadists who hate Americans because of our celebration of that.

SMITH: Indeed, many students say they're left now feeling more terrified than relieved.

Ms. TRISH GARRETTY (Student): It definitely threw me back to my sixth grade classroom, feeling that panic and fear.

SMITH: Junior Trish Garretty says this week felt more like another turn in an endless cycle of violence than any victory.

Ms. GARRETTY: We've had nine years of war, a lot of violence on both sides, and a lot of hate that just seems to be perpetuating, and I still don't understand what that means.

SMITH: Now that the story line is no longer as simple as Obama versus Osama, senior Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(ph) says young people will be putting a lot more pressure on the president to justify a war that's costing them friends and family.

Ms. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (Student): Now that this villain has been slayed, questions like what are we doing may have less of an answer today than we did yesterday.

Unidentified Female #1: I really I just don't know how to feel, I really don't.

SMITH: And so, a day after their jubilant cheers and celebrating, students like Katherine Young ended their meeting with heads bowed in a somber moment of silence.

Ms. KATHERINE YOUNG (Student): If we could all just take a moment to pause. Thank you.

TOVIA SMITH, NPR News, Boston.

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