Joe Daniels ’90 President & CEO, National September 11 Memorial & Museum — Fall 2014
This interview originally appeared in the FALL 2014 issue of The District.
We are pleased to circle back with one of our MHS esteemed alumni and catch up. This fall we caught up with Joe Daniels, MHS Class of ’90 . . .
After graduating from Morristown High School in 1990, Joe attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After college, he took a year off and met his wife while working in Vail, Colorado, as a lift operator. He went on to study law at the University of Pennsylvania where he received his JD and immediately after began practicing law in New York City.
On September 11, 2001, Joe took the train to the World Trade Center, where he was scheduled for a consulting project. From that moment, Joe’s personal and professional journey took a new course.
MEF: Tell us about your journey to become the President of the September 11th Memorial and Museum.
On September 11, 2001, I was coming to work in the American Express Building near the World Trade Center. When I got off the train, the North Tower of the World Trade Center had been hit by the first plane. I was in the middle of it all and saw everything. A few minutes later, I remember a large explosion when the plane hit the South Tower. Everyone started to run. I heard the news about the Pentagon, I was trying to get in touch with my wife. I looked back over my shoulder and saw thefirst tower collapse. I got back to our home in the West Village and went to the rooftop of our building. There I saw the secondtower fall.
In 2005, they created the foundation to raise money to build and operate the 9/11 Memorial. I joined the team as General Counsel. I saw a great opportunity to have a huge impact and help me heal from what I had seen up close, and for the hole in the city that I came to love. After 11 months, I received a call asking me to step in as acting President. Mayor Bloomberg was the Foundation’s Chair and he was very supportive of me. Iwas 32 years old…he hired me, and that’s how I got to be President. Since its opening, we’ve had more than 15 million visitors to the Memorial, and this May, we dedicated the 911 Memorial Museum.
MEF: What successes would you attribute to your high school experiences?
The most important thing I took away from MHS (I have 3 children now and this stays with me) is the level of diversity in everysense of the word that our school represents. I have this incredible reflection of it truly representing the best of our country.We were people from all different backgrounds (racial, geographic, socio economic, etc.) and we learned as students to get along with and be able to work and collaborate with all different types of people. It was a real gift for me at a young age to understand that there are all different types of people with different backgrounds. MHS taught me that and it will stick with me forever.
MEF: What advice would you give a MHS student?
My advice is to experience life and work with an open mind. Do as much as you can in high school and graduate with a sense of confidence. Because of the experiences you are getting at MHS, you should feel confident that you are prepared for whatever comes your way academically and working with others. Embrace that confidence.
MEF: Who was your favorite teacher; why?
Mr. Gordon made math interesting for me. He fostered a feeling in the classroom that we’re all part of the same team and on a similar journey. His enthusiasm translated to his students. I’d also say Mrs. Gorel for creative writing. I’ve been writing my whole life and what I learned in the class has stuck with me.
MEF: What are your responsibilities in your current position?
When I began with the 911 memorial, I was their eleventh employee. We now have over 450 staff, many serve in a front-line capacity. We are proud to be the second most visited sitein NYC. I’m responsible for a robust fund-raising effort raising over $475 million representing large gifts from corporations to generous gifts from the girl scouts and everything in between. I manage the operations of the memorial and the museum, which includes admissions, tour groups, museum (creating exhibitions), educational and public programs, and outreach. It feels better to work on something you believe in. It makes a difference when you’re passionate about what you do.”
The teachers were awesome and I remember a few that had an impacton me. I have great memories of friends. It was an incredible growing up experience…going to Suvios, being part of the neighborhood, the proms, games. It comes down to my teachers and friends.
MEF: If you had known then what you know now, would you have done anything differently in high school? If so, what?
My freshman year I showed up with a black jean jacket wearing a Ralph Lauren polo with a corduroy collar and a huge Iron Maiden patch… that I would do differently. On a serious note, generally high school is not easy, showing up as a little freshman. It’s a learning process, tough but amazing. Morristown High School, and in a larger sense Morristown, is an incredible place to raise a family… a true sense of what it is to be American. Those experiences have stayed with me.”