SARASOTA, Fla. - When the sun came up on September 11, 2001, 16 Sarasota second-graders got ready for a big day.
"To us, that day was important to us because we had worked so hard in our reading and learning skills," recalled one of those students, Natalia Jones-Pinkney.
Natalia and Lazaro Dubrocq, along with the rest of their class at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, were about to host the president of the United States, George W. Bush.
"We walk in and we see all the cameras and lights set up on the back in the classroom facing backwards of Ms. Daniels," Lazaro remembered.
President Bush participates in a reading demonstration the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
"All you hear in the back of us is reporters, cameras and press going ‘click-click-click-click-click.’ Ms. Daniels is like, ‘Don’t turn around. Act like you’re on your best behavior,’" Natalia continued.
Little did they know, the visit to showcase their reading program would take a jarring turn into history.
"We took our seats, and from then on, the day proceeded as history goes," Lazaro said.
Their teacher, Ms. Kay Daniels, started their lesson, with President Bush observing. As they opened their books to read ‘The Pet Goat,’ Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, walked in, bent down, and whispered in the president’s ear.
President Bush being informed by Andrew Card of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York during a school reading event in Sarasota. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
"I remember looking up briefly when I was supposed to be following along. I noticed Mr. Card came in off the side, whispered something in the president’s ear. I remember the image of him looking up and kind of looking off into the distance when he’s receiving news of the attack," said Lazaro.
The students, many only 7 years old, would learn a new lesson – something no teacher could have prepared them for. Terrorism, death and war.
Surrounded by students and staff, President Bush addressed the nation from their school.
"Today we’ve had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country," President Bush said.
The students’ sense of security and childhood innocence was forever altered.
"A lot of us were thinking, ‘It could have been us.’ It could have been us. That could have happened around here. Our community and homes," said Natalia.
Lazaro remembered the day.
"My entire life was Sarasota. My entire life was mainly the neighborhood I grew up in and the ride to and from Booker Elementary at that age. Here we are. I didn’t know what the Twin Towers were, what the Trade Towers were. At that point, your growth is kind of expediated," he offered.
The students in that classroom on September 11, 2001 are grown-ups now.
"I used to have to walk through this gate every day to go to school," Natalia recalled as she returned to campus.
Some even have their own kids.
Natalia lives in Sarasota with her children, Nathanyals and Layla.
"They are everything. My babies are everything," she smiled.
Natalia Jones-Pinkney now has her own kids. Her son attends Emma Booker Elementary, as his mom did.
Her son attends Emma E. Booker, the same school where his mother became part of history 20 years ago.
A day that impacts her life still today.
"It impacted me a lot because I wanted to be the same way Ms. Daniels was. For me, it left a mark. I got my degree in elementary education at Bethune-Cookman University, I kind of became a teacher, I followed those footsteps," she explained.
Lazaro went to New York and graduated from Columbia University. He now works as a project engineer in Houston.
"Tomorrow is never guaranteed," says Lazaro Dubrocq.
September 11th opened his eyes to the world.
"I like to think a lot of the moments the actions that I have taken in my life, my adult life, have kind of catalyzed from that day. Thinking to yourself, you need to take action now, tomorrow is never guaranteed, and honestly be with your loved ones," he said.
While all have taken different paths, each one is forged by history from a moment they never expected.
"I have a strong bond with my family, and I’m able to take advantage of every single day," Lazaro said.
"Just to know 20 years later it’s all relevant and important," Natalia added. "It shaped and impacted who I was. It’s an important thing."