Published: Sep 08, 2011 12:36 AM EDT
Updated: Sep 09, 2011 6:59 PM EDT

SARASOTA, Fla.-For these four high school seniors, September 11, 2001 began with a once in a lifetime opportunity.

At the time seven year old students at Emma Booker Elementary School, each was hand picked to read a book with President  George Bush.

It was a twist of fate for La'Damien Smith who was placed in the room at the last minute.

"I didn't know I was supposed to be in that class. I see the president and all these media people and I'm like oh my God, what am I doing? It was pretty crazy from the day it started to the day it ended," said Smith.

Just after 8:45 AM, the youngters saw a man whisper something to the president.

"We could see not only the presidents face, but miss Daniels' expression that something was bothering them," said Lazaro Dubrocq.

" I knew things changed when we finished his story when he got up and left. We all knew he was supposed to stay longer than that," said Mariah Williams.

Minutes later, President Bush used the library down the hall to make the announcement: The nation is under attack.

"In that moment, I don't think any of us knew what the World Trade Center was. What a terrorist was. We knew what the president was," said Chantal Guerrero.

The four watched the towers fall from a television in Ms. Daniels' class. They admit now they thought it was an action movie, not a front row seat to history. Mariah Williams talked to WINK News a year after the attacks.

"I feel happy because the president found some of the bad people and put them in jail and I hope he found the rest of them," she said.

Looking back now, she says it took her years to fully comprehend that day.

The 16 kids in the classroom that day have gone their separate ways; moved onto different high schools and made new friends. But they all say they're thankful they were in the room that day.

Ten years later, they know now how the minutes they spent with the president changed their paths. Especially for Dubrocq, a first generation American, who got to shake the President's hand.

"It helps us to aspire to be better.  We were chosen. We were some of the more academic kids in our class. It subconciously planted in our mind if we're good, and we work hard, we'll be rewarded," said Dubrocq.

Now he's using that lesson as he applies for Ivy League schools, the first in his family to go to an American college.

It's a legacy they will all pass onto their kids one day.

"I'm gonna be like 'Look at your dad! Sittin in a chair reading to the president!" said Smith.

Soon all four will graduate high school and head down different roads, forever sharing a bond that began at Emma Booker Elementary.