Editor’s Note: I had the honor of photographing Mary Kate last fall as a part of Dear World Live at Georgetown University. These are the words she said to an auditorium of her peers that evening. I caught up with her today and she told me it’d be fine to share. Her father’s name was John T. McErlean, Jr. and he was 39 when he died on 9/11. —Robert

My name is Mary Kate McErlean and I am a freshman psychology major.

On September 8th, 2001, I celebrated my 8th birthday; I got a sparkly purple bike and the matching helmet I asked for.

Three days later, on September 11th, 2001, two planes flew into the World Trade Center and killed my father. Those two planes brought down one of the world’s largest buildings and my father with it but those two planes did not bring me down. In the moment, it felt like my entire world had literally shattered in an instant. The immense loss I experienced and still feel today cannot be expressed in words alone. My father was the best person I have ever known and though he was taken from me on that day, nothing and no one will ever be able to take way the eight years and two days of my life that I shared with him. After my father died, and after I lost so much, I promised myself that I would never lose who I am as a person – the person that my father brought me up to be.

Life is far too unpredictable and far too temporary to live it for anyone but yourself. No person has an expiration date, I could die in seventy years or seventy hours from now and that is something that I know I can not control. Something I can control, however, is my life in this moment and what I choose to do with it. Experiencing great loss can leave a person with a feeling of emptiness and lack of purpose but it is within the power of the individual to overcome such adversity and live life with passion. Though I lost so much ten years ago, I also gained life lessons that I would never have learned otherwise. I learned to live my life without a single regret. I learned to live for today rather than tomorrow. I now appreciate the people that love me and every moment I am blessed to have with each of them. I learned not to let the little things in life consume me. if you ask anyone that knows me, focusing on small details is not something I am capable of doing. I will admit that there are many things I do not know about this world we live in but I do know that the uncertainty of life is indeed certain. If you owe someone an apology, tell them you are sorry today. If someone asks for your forgiveness, forgive them. Start being the person you always wanted to be today and don’t waste your time worrying about tomorrow.

Mary Kate McErlean
Dear World Live at Georgetown University
March 2012

Portrait: Robert X. Fogarty