The Govs community took time to think about the 20th anniversary of September 11 at our first Morning Meeting today. History Department Chair Ms. O'Connell shared her reflection of the day and the 20 years following that horrific, life-changing day. Below is her speech:
On September 11, 2001 nine militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks throughout the east coast of the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City while a third plane hit the Pentagon. The fourth plane, possibly headed for the White House, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 Americans were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including over 400 first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center as it collapsed.
As Americans commemorate the 20th anniversary of this tragic day, we largely focus on individual acts of heroism and defiance. We tell ourselves the stories of people like Welles Crowther who, after finding his way to safety, bounded back up the stairs of the 78th floor of the South Tower, ultimately sacrificing his own life to save those of strangers. We immortalize the Boatlift captains who after hearing a distress call spontaneously appeared in the harbor by the hundreds, rescuing half a million people from smoldering lower Manhattan. We listen to the final calls that the passengers of Flight 93 made to their loved ones before they brought that plane down, saving countless more lives. We focus on these stories because the enormity of the day is beyond our comprehension and these stories help us to grieve. But at the heart of these stories, Americans are not victims, Americans are actors making a choice to fight for their country, to fight for freedom, to fight for an idea.
A lot has been made of the unity that enveloped the country in the days and weeks following 9/11, especially in contrast to our own divided times; but this unity was largely symbolic. We held hands and sang God Bless America, we flew Ol’ Glory, we cheered for the Yankees and we agreed that America was an idea worth dying for, but we have never, ever agreed about what that idea is. The greatness of America is that each of us gets to figure that out for ourselves. People like to look back on a mythical past where the Founders created this country with one voice united in a single purpose. But the reality is that the Founders and every subsequent generation of Americans were as divided as we are. The only two things that the Founders agreed on was that there was a pretty good chance that this experiment would fail and that it was really important that it didn’t.
In the 20 years since the towers came down, 2,448 service members were killed in Afghanistan protecting their dream of America. Among them was Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario, a 25-year-old Dominican immigrant from my hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts which is 14 miles and a world away from here. Sgt. Rosario was one of 13 marines killed by an IED strike last month while helping Americans and Afghanis flea from an incoming regime that violently and oppressively demands allegiance to a single idea. The marines who gave their lives that day were from different states and practiced different religions; they had different skin tones, spoke different languages at home and had different ideas about why they were fighting. In the words of Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes and that is what makes America great.
As we spend the next nine months exploring ideas together, whether you are here by birth or by choice, I invite you to reflect on your idea of America; to listen to your teachers and your peers; to read, think and reflect; to exercise your Constitutional right to argue passionately; to recognize the flaws in the ideas of your adversaries but to also recognize their humanity and our shared and ongoing purpose of building a nation worth arguing about.