I expected, in the first month of the term, to visit many parts of the university. This pulpit was not one of them.
It was just ten days ago, just this moment right now, that the world was turned upside down. Ten days — long enough to reflect but far too short to comprehend or understand. Ten days. Still time to grieve, and also time to ask ‘how will we go on?’ As individuals, we will come together, again and again, as we must, in settings like this, to reflect, to pray, to comfort one another, and to honor those who have died.
We remind ourselves, as I did this weekend in Washington, as I went to my children’s soccer games, my children’s baseball games, my children’s dance concerts, birthday parties for my children’s friends, that the time we spend with our loved ones is most precious. That we are each blessed to live lives of value, and we must take advantage of that opportunity to its fullest, every day.
But what of us as a university community? We have a special opportunity, and a special responsibility.
We can uphold civility and reason, the values for which we stand, in the face of terror and fanaticism.
We can -and we will – practice inclusiveness and understanding in stark repudiation of prejudice and hatred, and refuse in this community, to tolerate intolerance.
We can, and we have, offer our assistance and support to those directly touched by the terror and the violence.
We can, and we will, debate means and tactics, but all will share in the national and global commitment to victory in the struggle against terrorism.
And, in the fullness of time, we will strive to help ourselves and to help others understand the larger patterns, the meanings, and the future implications of the horrendous events still so fresh in our minds – from perspectives that range from religion to public policy, from history to technology, from psychology to public health, from sociology to law, and beyond. For that is, after all, what we do at a university: contribute in the way we think, in the way we teach, in the way we learn.
But beyond these widely shared sentiments, there is another question. A set of questions that is in the air for many. With what’s going on in the world, does it matter if I do my calculus homework or go to field hockey practice? With all that is going on in the world, is it right to carry on with my work of managing accounts or teaching my small class?
These are important questions. They deserve a response. The answer is that yes it does matter, and it matters more than it ever did before. Our character as individuals and as a community is tested much more in bad times, in difficult times, than in good. We support our selves, our community, and our society every hour of every day when we carry forward the important work of learning and teaching, thinking and discussing — that is what this community is about.
We win an important victory over those who perpetrate this heinous deed when we carry on with what is most important to us, and we do not allow them to divert us from our chosen tasks. We win an important victory when we continue to be an example of those human values -the desire to share with the world tolerance, a sense of community — that are most important — when we are a beacon to others and the nation.
We will prevail in the struggle in which we are now engaged because we will not succumb to the temptation of nihilism. We will carry on our work. We will make every day count.
In doing so, we will emerge shaken, but ultimately stronger in the face of what has happened. We will show that we have great hope for the future, despite what has happened. And despite what has happened, we will cherish the ideals on which this university and our nation were founded all the more.