While all Americans were affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and reaction to the news of bin Laden's death probably wasn't that different among generations, young people were more likely to be awake late at night when U.S. President Barack Obama made announced bin Laden's death -- and still have the energy to go out and celebrate, noted Dotty Lynch, a political communications professor at American University.
The gatherings Monday morning were celebratory, she said, and not meant to be mobs. The "outpouring had more to do with feeling excited that somebody evil had been stamped out" than with a sort of celebration of death that some had accused the gatherings of being.
"I think it was a moment of celebration of winning," she said.
Americans had trouble dealing with the fact they hadn't captured the al-Qaeda mastermind, she said.
"I think this not only makes Americans feel stronger but it makes them feel more confident and more competent in their government," Lynch said.
Noticeably absent were angry activities that have become a part of gatherings in other parts of the world, said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank.
"You didn't see Pakistani flags being burned," he said.
Despite some warnings that celebrations would anger some in the Muslim world, Goure said most foreigners would realize what the gatherings were truly about.
"I think in this case most of the world will understand this to be exactly what it was, which was relief," he said.
The closest thing Lynch said she had previously seen was the reaction when President Richard Nixon resigned.
"It was really a moment where you were with other like-minded people," she said, noting that this time the "like-minded people" were all Americans and not just those opposed to Nixon.
Like people defined as the Watergate generation, Lynch said the current generation of young people has been defined by terrorism and the U.S. response to it.
"They feel like flying with all the restrictions, for example, is just a way of life," she said.
Obama drew large support from young people in his 2008 presidential bid. The Republican victories in 2010 were due in part to the fact that not many young people voted, Lynch said. Young voters stayed home because they were disillusioned with Obama.
"They were a little disappointed in him and they want to really like him," she said.
But the gatherings of young people in the late-night and early morning hours Sunday into Monday showed that support for Obama will likely be strong in 2012, she said.
Goure cautioned against overanalyzing the crowds as anything other than simple celebrations.
"We can get too cerebral about these issues," he said. "Fundamentally, 9-11 was a psychic blow to the American consciousness, [the] American sense of well-being."
It was interesting that the mass gatherings only took place in Washington and New York, the cities targeted by the attacks, he said.
"These two cities were injured. The people of the city were hurt in every sense of the word," Goure said. Sept. 11 was a "lingering wound that has not yet fully healed."