I will always remember September 11th, 2001. As I will always remember November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated, or the terrible days that Martin Luther King, Jr. or Robert Kennedy were shot. These were days the earth stood still. They changed history. They wrenched us out of a sense of routine and forced us to confront who we are, why our people matter.
9/11 touched the University of Rochester brutally and directly. We lost:
Jeremy Glick, Class of 1993, believed to have been one of the passengers on United Flight 93 who fought to prevent the terrorists from turning that flight to Washington. At our university, Jeremy Glick was president of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and in 1993 he became a national collegiate judo champion. For his heroism, Jeremy Glick has been recognized with the Arthur Ashe Courage award and the Medal of Heroism, the highest civilian award bestowed by the Sons of the American Revolution.
Jean Hoadley Peterson, Class of 1969 in Nursing, with her husband, Donald, also was on flight 93. They were returning from a trip to meet their first grandchild. Jean Hoadley Peterson had served in life as an emergency medical technician, who sometimes lent money to families in need and helped pregnant women, drug and alcohol addicts in crisis.
Jeffrey Smith, Class of 1987, MBA in 1988, was on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower, where he worked for Sandler O’Neill and Partners.
Zhe, or Zack, Zeng, Class of 1995, MBA in 1998, also died in the World Trade Center. Trained as an emergency medical technician, Zack Zeng headed to the second tower after the first tower fell. Shortly before the second tower collapsed, Zack was filmed administering first aid to a woman on a stretcher.
Brendan Dolan, Class of 1986, died in the World Trade Center. He was vice president in charge of the energy group at Carr Futures; remembered at our university as a quarterback on the football team, a member of our rugby team, the social chair of the Phi Upsilon fraternity.
Aram Iskendarian, Class of 1982, was vice president of global risk management at Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street firm most deeply touched by September 11th. Earlier he had survived the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
We will always remember Jeremy Glick, Jean Hoadley Peterson, Jeffrey Smith, Zhe Zeng, Brendan Dolan, and Aram Iskendarian. Each death of one in our community diminishes us.
These deaths and close to 3,000 victims that day touched not only our university but a world community bound together by the spectacle of viewing an unprovoked attack on thousands of innocent individuals.
We learned that day that when unfathomable evil occurs in the world, virtually all of us throughout are bound together in grief.
We were painfully reminded that there is evil in this world. Mere virtue does not always deter those that seek us harm – there is an unrelenting need for strength and certainty of purpose.
We were reminded what matters most in our country. The spirit of this lesson was well captured in what for centuries was the best remembered funeral oration in Western culture, that of Pericles after the initial battles of the Peloponnesian War. He recalled why the Athenians went to war in terms of that city-state’s values. Pericles said:
Our constitution …favors the many instead of the few; that is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences….advancement in public life [goes] to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way. If a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all …in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey…the laws, particularly such as … the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.
Pericles’ celebration of democracy was rearticulated by Lincoln at Gettysburg.
We have progressed further today. We are a people without slavery and who treat both men and women as equals. We are a people who do not discriminate on the basis of religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or other forms of lawful diversity.
We pride ourselves on being an open and welcoming society. We celebrate self-initiative, freedom in our workplace, in our personal lives, in our thought.
9/11 has caused us painful compromises. We are more security conscious today than we were ten years ago.
We have fought wars to deter further attacks.
We have been painfully reminded that as much as we cherish our values they are not universally esteemed. We are part of an imperfect and sometimes dangerous world where we must permanently be on our guard. The age of innocence ended on September 11, 2001.
The heroes of September 11th were not like those soldiers in Athens who choose to fight for their country. Their lives nonetheless reflected who we are and the values for which we stand.
Pericles closed his funeral oration with words that when revised for our fallen remain as true today as they were 2,000 years ago:
So died these men and women as became Americans. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may be in happier times. Be not contented merely with the ideas derived from the advantages which are bound up with the defense of your country…but reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen sense of honor that these men and women lived and that day died. For the offering of their lives made in common by each of them individually they will receive that renown that never grows old…and that noblest of shrines where glory is laid up to be eternally remembered…. For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every heart a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except for the heart.