How 9/11 changed one college student's path to adulthood

Sep 9, 2011

“There was such a shift from what I thought life was going to be, to what it turned out to be. That’s where things really started for me.  It’s where I started growing up, I would say.”

In early September of 2001, Kevin Finch moved from his childhood home in Puyallup, Wash., to the dorms at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) to start his freshman year in college. His plan was to finish in 4 years with a degree in something related to health care, an idea that began to unravel on just his second day of class.

He woke to hear his roommate talking on the phone about something he couldn't quite piece together. Then he turned on the TV to learn 2 planes had just hit the World Trade Center in New York:

"I was kind of in shock," he says. "I called home, just to touch base with my comfort zone because this was such a jarring experience. [It was] one of the first few days away from home for the first time in my life and then, this horrible, national tragedy. So, I think I called them as kind of a touchstone to kind of re-center."

New awareness, new path

His outlook on the world changed almost immediately:

"I know for me personally, I’d never given much thought to how the rest of the world viewed us," he says. "I just assumed everyone thought we were great, which was, in retrospect, pretty naïve. And to see that there were people who were willing to go to this length to hurt us, and then to see, on the news, people around the world who were actually happy this had happened to us, it took me by surprise.

Despite being in a stupor, he marched off to class where he says professors hardly discussed the event before launching into the planned curriculum. Finch assumes no one really knew how to to talk about the attacks, or knew if they were even over. That changed a few days later, when the school organized everything from counseling sessions to candlelight vigils. 

Finch reacted in a pretty different way from most of his classmates.

Moving forward by not backing out

For a couple months prior to Sept. 11, he says he'd been considering joining the Army Reserves to help pay for school. After the attacks, his friends in the dorm cautioned against the idea, saying he would probably be sent off to war:

"So, I had to really think about what it really meant for me to be joining because it was definitely going to be different from what I had originally imagined," he says. "But, it sort of cemented my desire to join, because there was, immediately afterwards, this huge wave of patriotism that went through the whole country. And I felt, since I had already given so much thought, to change my mind now would be the worst option."

Within 11 days, he had signed up for the Reserves. The following year, he was deployed to Bosnia to work as a patient administrator in a small hospital for 7 months. So far, that's been his only deployment. He says it's not because he didn't want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, but that the Army didn't need him there.

"It was hard seeing on the news that there were people my age that were going through a much worse experience than the one I had," he says. "And soon after I came back from my deployment, my brother left to Iraq. And I think that was one of the hardest parts because he was my older brother, but he joined the military after me after seeing the benefits I received and ... he was over there, putting himself in danger and I was just kind of sitting back at home and wasn’t able to do the same."

The long road back to school

After returning from Bosnia, Finch says it took him a couple of years to return to school. In 2010, he finally earned his undergraduate degree in biology from PLU. He says even though it was strange being older than other students in his graduating class, his path was the best possible one he could have taken. He was accepted into medical school at the University of Washington last year, but not because he had the best answers to the same scenario questions other applicants faced:  

"When I went in there, it was a completely different experience," he says. "All they wanted to talk about was what I had been through from 18 to now. So, I feel like that is really what got me in."