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September 11 Remembrance

John T. Casteen III
University Hall, September 11, 2002

Welcome to you all. Welcome to those of you here in University Hall, and those of you attending via video-stream.

There are times when events defeat words. When the unimaginable overwhelms our ability to understand. Language centers in the brain break down. And our senses take over. We need now to get beyond the language or shock and outrage to discover new words of reflection and renewal.

As this year has progressed music spoke to us. The emotion in the math of a Bach cello suite and the unifying emotion of the Star Spangled Banner—or for that matter Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising"—express more of the complexities of the human condition than verbal constructs can.

In Charlottesville we did not hear the planes screaming at 500 miles per hour into the World Trade Center, the 10,000 gallons of jet fuel exploding, the collapsing towers, the roar of the whirlwind of dust and glass and splintered steel. Afterward, we missed the roar of the fighter jets patrolling the air space above 2nd Avenue, up and down the two rivers, back and forth across Central and Riverside Parks. We heard instead the voices of Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, the sounds of our own prayers, and the words of anonymous members of the New York fire department, clergy, and people in the street. Nearer to home, we heard the words of Pentagon survivors, Arlington police officers, and women and men scattered across the United States and the world lamenting the loss of their loved ones, of at least at some of their hope for peace in the world, and ultimately the loss of an innocence that seems now after one year all too long ago and in all too distant a world.

Pictures spoke to us. Gliding across a bright skyscraper-pierced blue sky, two 767s reached their targets and tunneled into steel and glass and concrete and human flesh. The crushed angles of the Pentagon. A black crater in a field in Pennsylvania. And pasted in storefronts and on lampposts and in all the newspapers, the victims' faces—office workers, restaurant workers, rescue workers, airline passengers, military men and women, parents and sisters and brothers, and then also those who stole the planes and flew them into the buildings. And now we understand the strange truth: these killers have mothers and fathers; they may have been as well as or better loved than you or I.

After a time, when the horror sinks in, the numbers begin to speak.

  • In the World Trade Center more than 2,824 people from 60 countries died. The remains of only one in three victims have been identified.
  • At the Pentagon, 189 people died.
  • In Shankesville, Pennsylvania 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the crash of United Flight 93 killed all 45 people aboard.
  • On October 7, the United States and its allies began air strikes in Afghanistan. The Taliban government was toppled. The numbers are not sure, but more than a 1000 people have died there since then.

And the members of the University family who were lost in the attacks speak of more personal losses:

  • Michael J. Cahill (Col,'86)
  • Karen Elizabeth Hagerty, daughter of J. Linzee (Col '65)
  • Douglas D. Ketcham (Col '82)
  • Patrick Sean Murphy (Engr '87)
  • A. Todd Rancke (GSBA '86)

What do these images and numbers tell us? That the United States and its defenders are no long untouchable. Nor are we. Nor are our children. If we did not know it before, we know now that human kind can be the cruelest of species—unutterably cruel.

What do we learn from the bravery of firefighters who rushed again and again up smoke and debris choked stairways until they disappeared into imploding buildings? From the children born after their fathers' deaths? Homely lessons that put sophisticated irony to shame: That life goes on after death. That just as there are those that hate and destroy, there are those that love and create. That when the good fall, others must take their places. That the human spirit is invincible.

A year later, Tennyson's "Ulysses" speaks to us:

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I would like to leave you with the plea of a murdered statesman: "We say today in a loud and a clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough." And William Faulkner's plea in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that we cling to "the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

God bless you all.