Matthew Scherzer '03 and Erin Russ '03

Matthew Scherzer '03 and Erin Russ '03

Matthew Scherzer ’03 and Erin Russ ’03 weren’t supposed to be in Washington, D.C., in September 2001. Scherzer had planned to spend his junior fall in South Africa. Russ was headed for London. But unforeseen circumstances (which had nothing to with their budding romance) put the couple in Washington, where Russ had an internship with a news agency and Scherzer was on Capitol Hill. That fall, they were among eight Bates students on the Washington Semester program at American University.

In the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, they witnessed the capital’s transformation from open city into an armed camp with “Humvees and military personnel everywhere,” Russ recalls. “It was not what you were used to in America.”
When the school locked down its campus, the Batesies sought out one another. “We clung to each other,” Russ said.

Almost wistfully, Scherzer remembers lounging on the Capitol steps three weeks earlier, listening to a concert. “After 9/11 that area was completely shut off.”

Fast forward a year, when Russ and Scherzer approached then-chaplain Kerry Maloney and offered to help plan a Chapel service on the first Sept. 11 anniversary.

“Regardless of how we felt personally about the U.S. and its response, we thought it was very important to organize an apolitical event,” Scherzer says. “We wanted to give the community an opportunity to remember the victims and to come together in a comforting and peaceful environment.”

Russ and Scherzer are now engaged to be married. She’s at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and he’s wrapped up his fundraising job with the American Jewish Committee and attending Yale School of Management for his M.B.A.

Building their lives, they’re among millions who react differently to the world around them. “You’re scared. Living in New York, you are even more scared. You question everything,” says Russ. “You remember being carefree before, but then after that there was Madrid, and London, and India. 9/11 teaches us the importance of not being angry with each other when we leave in the morning.”

For Scherzer, the events of Sept. 11, coupled with his work for the AJC, gave him a window onto the world, illuminating the fact that many people have long lived in fear of terrorism and violence.

“Before 9/11, America was very naïve,” he said.