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'Relief,' then a release: Students explain bin Laden bashes

Anna F. Curtis, journalism student at University of Missouri

Huge celebration in University of Missouri's Greektown. Champagne, fireworks, crowd surfing.

It started as a murmur, but quickly grew into a roar.

Chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" riccochted across the campus of The Ohio State University, building and evolving until it found a sympathetic audience near the famed Mirror Lake.  

If this were any night but Sunday, May 1, 2011, the revelry would have been chalked up to pent-up finals stress, or a successful sporting victory. But, this was not the case as college students across the country had the monster pulled from their their closets, and in Columbus, that meant a dip in the chilly water despite air temperatures and weather patterns that were less-than ideal.

Nearly ten years after 9/11, the children who watched the towers fall fill America’s colleges and universities, and on the evening the world learned of Osama bin Laden’s death, many took to the streets, celebrating the death of their generation's boogeyman. 

'There is finally justice'
Though they were young at the time - most were between the ages of 8 and 12 - many millennials cast the al-Qaida chief's death as a pivotal moment in their development. They came of age of age under the shadow of 9/11 and its vestiges: the war on terror, color-coded terror alerts and seemingly endless security lines at airports -- and Sunday offered the chance to shed a portion of that weight.

"We watched the second plane hit the tower, and just watching that was painful," University of Oklahoma senior Steve Sichterman told msnbc's Contessa Brewer. "We were just solemn, and so it is really a great thing to know there is finally justice for those 3,000 plus people that were killed."

“It was really a feeling of relief," said Oklahoma student Timothy Marquis when asked how he reacted to news that bin Laden was dead.

"For ten years we had been searching for him and I remember being in middle school and seeing the attacks on 9/11. Relief came from the feeling that we finally got him," he told Brewer.

At The Ohio State university (user-submitted image below) students plunged into Mirror Lake, a tradition usually saved for the hours surrounding a football game against Michigan.

David Krogh

Students at The Ohio State University jump into Mirror Lake, a tradition marked and remembered during Beat Michigan Week.

Similar scenes were acted out across the country (sans lake, but with the same energy and excitement).

George Washington and American students helped fill the area outside the White House.  

Demi McLaren, 20, a sophomore history and secondary education major at American told the Washington Post "someone put, ‘Party on the White House lawn,’ on Facebook,” then immediately packed into a car with six other students. “We knew it was going to be a rager.”

Boston Common rocked late into the night thanks to the city's many colleges. Penn State looked like it had just won the Rose Bowl (user-submitted image below). From the looks of pictures submitted to msnbc.com, West Virginia University, known for its couch burnings after Mountaineer football games, lost many a living room centerpiece during the course of the evening. 

Robert A. Kolodzieski

At Penn State University. Absolute once in a lifetime experience! USA! Can't believe this has happened after ten years.

'Intense sense of closure'

In addition to pouring outside, college students took to the Internet in heavy numbers in the hours following the announcement pf bin Laden's death. They searched for a semi-private place to vent, support one another and above all, find closure.

University of Delaware celebrations were branded an "intense sense of closure for people who were frightened little kids in '01" on Twitter. 

Of course, there are students who contend that the fun - which, it must be said, took place for many amid the stress of finals - was less meaningful and more effervescent.

Sean Morrow, a senior at Clark University in Massachusetts, told the Associated Press, that it "is kind of surreal to watch people celebrating someone's death."

Morrow contends he understands it because, for him and many others his age, bin Laden was their boogeyman, "the main negative person of our generation."

"That’s why I think we all went out to celebrate what is not only for the victims receiving justice, but for all those men and women overseas that have fought for so long and are going to continue to be fighting the war on terror," he told the news service.

John F. Ryan

Virginia Military Institute celebrates on Sunday.

Despite the overwhelming scenes of glee, millennials' reactions remain mixed, much like older generations that celebrated in similar fashions across the country. The one common thread seems to be that the evening will go down in history a "where were you when moment."

“Without a doubt, just like with September 11th, we’re all going to remember where we were," University of Oklahoma student Sichterman explained.

"We have all the country songs to remember where we were, and we’ll remember where we were on May 1st, 2011.”

Toby Keith, the gauntlet has been thrown.

Click here for more on the reaction across college campuses and in cities: Ohio State; Oklahoma State; Penn State University; Boston; Washington

Click here and here for more images and accounts of spontaneous celebrations from the evening the world learned of Osama bin Laden's death.