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Remarks of Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers

Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts

A year ago on this day, we came together in this place to share our grief, to face our fear, to begin making sense of a world torn open.

We now come together again. We vowed then that we would remember and we have.

We remember where we were when we heard. We remember the shock as we watched planes hit symbols of our strength, the horror as we watched people jump to their deaths, the fear in the voices of our families and friends, the dread in our own hearts.

We remember, too, with respect and awe those who climbed stairs into fire risking all and those who searched the ruins for survivors, working past their own strength until all hope was exhausted.

We remember how we in this community supported each other through hours on the phone; braced each other through days of uncertainty, through the weeks when our usual fall business — of teaching and learning, studying and playing — seemed never more beside the point, and yet never more crucial.

We remember our fear of what would come next. For we value life and love on earth, and when they are lost, we suffer and we grieve.

Today we remember tenderly and fondly those who were lost. We remember the parents forced to mourn their children; the children suddenly without a parent; the lovers forever separated.

As we grieve for each innocent life lost, we cannot evade the truth that what we commemorate here today is more just than the tragedy of human lives lost multiplied thousands of times over. It is the result of a calculated plan to murder unsuspecting people, innocent people – not because of anything they did or even anything they stood for — but because they were members of this national community enjoying the fruits of freedom.

Those who killed on September 11 and those who celebrate the killing remind us of the eternal existence of evil. And we regard the world with understanding and openness, but we must also face it with moral clarity. We may debate the nature of truth, but there are truths beyond debate. Pursuit of that truth is our particular objective.

On Sept 11th, our generation learned, as generations before us have had to learn, that the values of life and liberty we venerate cannot be taken for granted but must be the constant object of our common purpose. For we saw that there are no ivory towers or impregnable fortresses — we are bound together.

A renewed commitment to our common purpose in this university, this nation and this world — let this be a lasting legacy of the terrible events of a year ago. Let us each in our own way make common purpose an objective of our very individual strivings.

Let us advance the common purpose by refusing to excuse or legitimate terror but, equally, by insisting that every person be seen fairly as an individual and not on their race or their creed.

Let us honor those who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedom and show our support for those among us who have the courage to make that fateful choice.

Let us manifest our common purpose by renewing our commitment to this nation and, above all, to the values for which it stands.

Let us reflect — carefully, courageously, drawing upon our accumulated knowledge and all our capacity to reason — how we can best defend and advance the ideal of freedom. Let our moral clarity be translated not into reflexive revenge but into determination to prevail against terror and build a better world.

For ultimately, we will be judged not by what we oppose, but by what together we work towards. Privileged to be part of a great university, let us marshal all that we know and all that we can learn to strengthen the ties between the world’s peoples. Let our calling be to use our knowledge to build a world of deeper understanding, greater justice, and heightened respect for human life. For centuries, Harvard has been proud to serve the American nation; and now, increasingly, we are called to serve the world as well.

Together, on this somber day, in this green and tranquil yard, we think back with sadness, we draw strength from each other, we look ahead with hope. Our memory fortifies our resolve as we go forward in pursuit of truth — our high and common purpose.