Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, September 25, 2002

Text of Hennessy's comments at remembrance service

The following are remarks by President John Hennessy at the Memorial Service on the Main Quad, Sept. 11, 2002

Good afternoon. It is good to see so many members of the Stanford community here today. A year ago, we came together, shocked at the horror and loss of life in the tragedies in New York City, in Virginia and in Pennsylvania. Many of us knew someone who lost a loved one, and five Stanford alumni died in the September attacks.

When we held the official memorial service last year on Sept. 14, I closed my remarks with the following exhortation from Lincoln's second inaugural address:

"...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan..."

I believe we can all be proud of how people, in this community and across the country, responded to the needs of the victims and their families.

Today, we join communities throughout the United States in honoring the memory of the women and men -- friends, parents, siblings and children -- who died on 9/11. As we dedicate this day to those innocent victims, we also offer our prayers and consolation to the families and friends of those who lost their lives.

One year later, it also seems appropriate to ask what we have learned from these tragedies and how we have grown as individuals and as a society.

How did the events of 9/11 change my perspectives? Certainly, I have witnessed a loss of innocence and a loss of a sense of invulnerability. But, perhaps these notions had outlived their reality and were due to be retired.

More importantly, the events of 9/11 have increased my appreciation for the core values on which this country and this university are based. The principles we take for granted -- a democratically elected government, freedom of the press and of religious choice, equality of individuals -- were, in my mind, targets of the attacks. The terrorists sought not only to kill innocent people, but also to spread fear and to break our commitment to our principles.

Fortunately, these principles are enshrined in the national consciousness in a way that no act of terrorism can destroy. Terrorists may force us to ask hard questions about our values and what we are willing to do to protect them, but they cannot force us to relinquish our commitment to these ideals.

Within the university we also rely on a set of principles enshrined in our motto: "The Winds of Freedom Blow." The freedom to question and the freedom to explore are privileges that we zealously guard and without which we could not function as a place of learning. These freedoms will serve as well as we continue to grapple with the meaning and aftermath of 9/11.

As Abraham Lincoln spoke on Nov. 19, 1863, at Gettysburg, he wanted not only to dedicate a new cemetery and to pay homage to the dead, but also to seek some meaning from the thousands of lives that had been sacrificed there. He concludes his speech with these well-known words:

"...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth..."

Likewise, we might ask ourselves what we should do so that the victims of 9/11 shall not have died in vain. Certainly, we must take steps to prevent such acts of terror in the future. If in taking those steps, however, we renege on the principles on which this country stands, our enhanced security will be but a tarnished memorial to the victims of Sept. 11.

Instead, while seeking to secure our country against terrorism, I would urge that we also renew our commitment to the enduring ideals for which this country and our university stand.

And as we work toward a better world where such acts of terror become unthinkable, I would urge us to remember that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are universal human desires.

With that understanding, we are better prepared to begin the task of building a just and lasting peace among the peoples of the world -- what a splendid memorial that would be for the victims of Sept. 11.