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Candlelight Vigil 09/11/02

September 11, 2002 — Remarks by President Machen at Candlelight Vigil 09/11/02

Thank you all for joining together tonight.

Today I have tried not to watch TV or read the newspapers. My thoughts are on one year ago and the inconceivable events of that day.

My initial focus has been on the victims of September 11 and their families. It is a time of remembrance and reflection.
· I think of how many lives were cut short.
· I think of how many families were torn apart.
· I think of shattered dreams and unfulfilled plans.
· I cannot but think of how lucky I am and how much I treasure my family and friends.

Overwhelmingly, tonight our hearts and our prayers are with the surviving loved ones of 9/11. We can only hope they find consolation and strength.

Remembering that loss takes me back to our gathering here almost a year ago. Our vigil then was a very dark time, filled with sorrow and disbelief. Yet our coming together, to create, literally, some light in that darkness, offered hope. As we stood together-scared, angry, confused, sorrowful-we were stripped down to our basic humanness. We felt vulnerable. But in our vulnerability, perhaps we saw in one another what was most basic: a need for connection, for compassion and respect. We accepted that need in one another. We offered what we could and were grateful for what we were given in return. It was a place of sorrow I don’t want to revisit, but one I also don”t want to forget. Such a moment, when we understand our connectedness and accept our differences, reveals that respect and compassion are starting places-and, hopefully, ending places-in our relationships with one another.

I said a year ago that the University is a community that is better for our differences and our diversity, and I believe that even more strongly today. So many at the University have reached out in the last year, in an effort to heal and to understand. Some activities focused on 9/11 directly, while others grew from experiences related to the tragedy. Students organized a lecture series, faculty offered their expertise and their considered perspectives, and staff members brought counseling services, speakers, and panels to campus. I saw a reaffirming of the University’s role as a gathering place where questions could be asked and thoughtful opinions offered, all in a spirit of honoring-and learning about-different backgrounds and beliefs. I’m grateful for the efforts of all, which sprang, I believe, from a genuine desire to help and to grow.

It’s become clear in the last year that we are citizens of the world, active participants in trying to understand our country’s and other countries’ governments, cultures, and histories. Perhaps we have a greater awareness of our complexity as humans and the complexity of sharing a planet. We’ve learned to question our assumptions about ourselves and about others. But we’ve also learned that vigilance must not lead to a climate of suspicion. We’ve learned that to live in this country is to live in an open society. But we’ve also learned that “tolerance” does not mean tolerating hate and destruction. We’ve learned that we cannot build from anger. But we’ve also learned that we cannot accept actions whose intent to destroy.

I also hope we do not succumb to the belief that war is the appropriate response for the current world situation. War will not solve the problems of the world. We must act as one member of the community of nations and seek a collective solution to the current dilemma.

This is your century more than mine. You must commit to work out the problems we face.

My hope for the University community is that we continue to engage the complexities of our world and that we continue to reach out in an effort to heal and to understand. I hope that from our sorrow comes our deepest compassion. I hope that we affirm our humanity, that our moments of emptiness can ultimately be filled with connectedness. I hope that we continue to gather as a community, with the intent of bringing light to those gatherings. And I hope that we always remember those who were lost, and their loved ones, and gain courage and hope by honoring their strength and sacrifice.