From The President: I Will Never Forget

September 18, 2002

Scott Cowen

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of remarks delivered by Tulane President Scott Cowen to the university community on Sept. 11, 2002. It is one year ago today that we witnessed the tragic events of 9/11 where thousands of innocent people with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds were killed--no, murdered--in an attack on America.

It is also one year to the day and minute where we gathered together as a community to cope with and mourn the events of 9/11. A lot has transpired in the year hence. We have seen America engaged in a War on Terrorism, we have witnessed terrifying conflict in the Middle East, we have heard about greed and dishonesty in corporate America on a scale unprecedented in decades, and we have seen a meltdown of the capital markets and the global economy resulting from all that has happened.

In the midst of these monumental events, we also have gone on with our lives, albeit as somewhat different people than we were before 9/11. Yet, given all that has happened this year, it is 9/11 that I will never forget. I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about the unthinkable. I will never forget the sunken feeling of despair and helplessness I felt, as glued to the TV, I watched and heard the unfolding news of loved ones lost, and physical destruction beyond comprehension.

I will never forget the fear I felt for my family and friends, our community and our country, as I wondered what might be next and what this might mean for our future. I will never forget witnessing breathtaking acts of courage by everyday people--firefighters, rescue workers, policemen and citizens rallying to the call for help without concern for their own safety and well-being.

I will never forget the almost unprecedented swell of patriotism, steely determination, and grit shown by communities throughout the U.S. Watching America cope and fight back at a time of crisis and uncertainty renewed my faith in humanity. I will never forget seeing the scorched earth where the Twin Towers once stood--now a mass grave and vivid symbol of what hatred, intolerance and ignorance can lead people to do. Finally, I will never forget the faces of the families who lost loved ones in this horrific tragedy. Despite the painfulness of these memories, I never want to forget them as long as I am on this earth.

To forget is to deny, to forget is to dishonor those who lost their lives, to forget is to ignore, or even worse, to somehow accept what occurred. I want to remember so I have the strength, determination and courage to face and counter the forces that led to this tragedy and others like it around the world. I--no, we--must all dedicate a portion of our lives to this goal. If we do not, I fear our future may involve more 9/11s.

In the 9/11 tragedy, we have witnessed firsthand the extreme consequences of hatred, intolerance, ignorance and xenophobia. Yet, as we remember 9/11 we must not forget the thousands of deaths that occur every day around the world as a result of senseless violence.

Just this week alone, the Tulane community suffered a great loss with the murder of Tulane College senior Jonathan Lorino, son of our dear colleague Tony Lorino and his wife, Lisa. How can we possibly bear these types of losses? What can we do to ensure that they never happen again here or anywhere? It is time, my friends, that we join together as a community, as a nation, and as citizens of the world to eradicate the forces that lead to such tragedies.

Somehow, we need to find a way to forge a lasting world peace so that our children and our children's children have a secure future. I have thought a great deal about this challenge since 9/11 and have pledged to myself to do the following: I pledge to confront and directly address acts of hatred, intolerance and xenophobia when and where I see them. As a world-class university we stand for academic freedom and freedom of speech.

We welcome, encourage and cherish the right of individuals and groups to have different ideas, opinions and epistemologies of living and being. We, as a community, would always fight to preserve these rights on our campuses and throughout society, yet, at the same time, we must find a way to preserve these rights without them engendering hatred and intolerance among people who differ. Can we not have discourse with civility, disagreement without personalization, differences without disrespect?

Hopefully, through education, research and being living role models we can best satisfy this pledge. As university citizens it is our destiny to lead the way in this effort. I pledge to develop a greater understanding of world cultures and religions so that I become an even more sensitive and knowledgeable citizen of the world. Ignorance may be an explanation for reprehensible behavior, but it is never a defensible excuse.

One of the root causes of hatred, intolerance and xenophobia is ignorance. When ignorance prevails, irrational behavior often follows. Perhaps if I can increase my knowledge of world cultures and religions, I can use this knowledge to eradicate ignorance. If I only do this one person at a time, it would be worth the effort. There is no better use of my time. I pledge to do more to eliminate the economic and social gaps between the "haves and have-nots" throughout the world.

Poverty often leads to despair and hopelessness, which, in turn, can lead to desperation and desperate acts. How can we, the privileged in many ways, stand by and see others less fortunate and do nothing about it? This behavior is unconscionable, indefensible and wrong! Regardless of one's political leanings, it makes sense for all of us to eradicate world poverty so as to build a stronger and more secure global society.

If the gaps continue to enlarge, I fear desperate people will continue to engage in more desperate acts here and around the world. I pledge to always remember and exercise the Power of One. It is sometimes easy or convenient as individual people to observe events yet do nothing about them because we feel powerless. I urge you to discard this impulse and remember that people working both individually and collectively can have a significant impact on whatever course they set their mind to.

History is replete with stories of common people who made a difference because they would never be denied. I know I have to remember this lesson so that I never get defeated or discouraged in efforts to make a difference. We have heard a great deal in the last year from our nation's leadership that it is time for Americans to embrace "a new ethic of responsibility" and to bury once and for all the culture of greed and excess that characterized the late '80s and '90s.

The events of 9/11 offer a new opportunity and expectation for revitalized community engagement and civic responsibility. Unfortunately, this laudatory rhetoric has not yet been converted into reality. Now is the time to make this happen, and as university citizens we should lead the way. Finally, I pledge to nourish and cherish my abundant hope for the future. I have seen many things in my lifetime and obtained successes I never dreamed possible growing up in a middle class family in New Jersey. I have had personal ups and I have had my personal downs but through it all I have never lost hope in the future.

Likewise, I have witnessed America in crisis in the past and have always seen it recover stronger and more resilient than before. Through all of these times--personally and as a nation--lessons have been learned, behavior has been modified, energy has been redirected, the future has blossomed and hope has prevailed. I offer you hope for the future in the full knowledge that we, as a people, are stronger, more determined, wiser, and more knowledgeable as a result of past events. We are even more prepared now than ever before to forge the glorious future that is surely within our grasp. However, to secure it, we must act.

Join with me today in making your own personal pledges to makes this world better and safer--now and in the future. Let's leave here today never forgetting what occurred 9/11, but remembering what must be done to make sure it never occurs again anywhere in the world.

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