All of us within the community thank Hannah for sharing her beautiful and courageous reflection with us about her father and her family's loss on September 11, 2001. This response to tragedy, this global human assertion of goodness and solidarity seem to me one that is inspiring, miraculous, and perfectly attuned to the lives we seek to live in the 21st Century. This approach can change the world.
Although it was 16 years ago tomorrow, I remember that day and its aftermath in vivid detail -- from the moment Mrs. Roach came over to my classroom to tell me a plane had hit the Trade Center, to the moment we gathered together in Chapel (still unsure about the possibility of more attacks), to the moments students called parents and loved ones who had been in New York or Washington that day, to the moment we learned we had lost Robert Jordan '86, to the aftermath as we and American leaders sought to respond to the attacks.
In many ways, the national debates we have today in America have been shaped by the experience of September 11, 2001. When one is attacked, one looks to extinguish confusion, pain, anger, and fear with certainty, vengeance, violence, suspicion of the other, and walls, literal and figurative ones.
Many writers, historians, and leaders wrote essays right after the tragedy that urged American leaders to remember that the terrorists would ultimately prevail if we, as Americans, lost our sense of trust, freedom, diversity, and community; if we responded to the attacks by closing our minds, our hearts, our principles, our borders, our global perspective. Writers worried that we should be careful, not hasty, and design a national response that honored human rights, American principles of justice and equality, and the men and women who fight for freedom far away from home. We worried that anger and a desire for vengeance could lead to religious intolerance and xenophobia.
It is a good question, 16 years later, to ask if we, as individuals or as a country, have responded to the tragedy by staying true to our best selves, best values, most sacred principles. Perhaps, as Hannah teaches us today, the answer to the violence somehow emerged through countless acts of global compassion, empathy, and grace for victims and their families.
What is clear to me now after 16 years is that we lost precious lives that day, that men and women acted with heroism, courage, and honor to rescue and help all those who were injured, trapped, and frightened that day, that men and women sacrificed their safety, that citizens mastered what Hannah so beautifully described as a September 12th approach to love, empathy, and support, that many work each day to defeat religious intolerance, that members of the armed services risked and gave their lives as first President Bush, then President Obama, and now President Trump asked for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. That service and sacrifice continues to this day.
In their honor, September 11th should be a day of mourning and remembrance -- an opportunity to replace violence with peace, hatred with love, absolutism with reason, intolerance with acceptance. We can honor this day by working to create ways of responding to the radical allure of hatred with the radical promise of love.
As we have learned in your own young lives, we will as a nation and as a world confront tragedy, adversity, violence, and fear. We remember Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, Orlando, Paris, London Bridge, and Finsbury Park, Manchester, Stockholm, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Nice, Idlib Province, Baghdad, Charlottesville, and many more acts of terrorism and hatred in our world. We may see the reappearance of intolerance and hatred march proudly down our streets; we may see shootings desecrate the sacred spaces of religions, public squares, schools, and colleges; we may see people attacked for their political beliefs, for whom and how they love, for their belief in freedom and equality.
But we can respond with courage, grace, and intention. We are not helpless, silent, trapped. We can embrace a September 12th response, knowing that acts, gestures, letters, expressions of mercy and goodness ultimately defy the forces that seek to frighten or divide us.
Hannah and her family confront tragedy and transform it to grace, all through the appreciation of goodness, human solidarity, and love. We can honor that magnificent and remarkable example in our school and in the rest of our lives. We honor Hannah's father today, the Murphy family, and all those who mourn, remember, and love so intensely Tomorrow. Let's pray for them and join them.