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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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Tilghman: University community has responsibility in responding to tragedy

The University is planning to Webcast a tape of the memorial service on Tuesday.

At a Sunday afternoon memorial service for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman called for members of the University community to "acknowledge both the distinctiveness of each persons experience and the common humanity that unites us all."

"We all have a responsibility ... to prove what we know to be true: that love is stronger than hate; that justice is stronger than injustice; that democracy is stronger than despotism; and that freedom does allow for the fullest flowering of the human spirit," she said in her opening remarks. "I ask each and every one of us to accept that responsibility today."

More than a thousand University community members gathered on Cannon Green, spilling over to the steps of Whig and Clio halls. The service was planned by Tilghman's office to give the community an opportunity to draw strength from each other, to give voice to sorrow and grief, and to offer comfort and peace.

Other speakers at the service included: James McPherson, the George Davis '86 Professor of American History; Toni Morrison, the Robert Goheen Professor in the Humanities; Paul Muldoon, the Howard Clark '21 University Professor in the Humanities; and Marta Tienda, the Maurice During Professor in Demographic Studies and professor of sociology and public affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Remarks by Tilghman and other participants are available by clicking here .

Tilghman said that the University has an important role to play in "ensuring that these terrorists do not achieve their larger goals of turning us one against another and weakening our commitment to our core values of freedom of inquiry and expression, of civil and principled discourse, and of respect for the rights and sensibilities of others."

"We must continue to affirm our respect for the dignity, individuality and freedom of each member," she said. "Through the experience of living and learning together, we aim to foster a sense of shared experience and common purpose, along with a collective responsibility for each other's well-being. We have all heard in recent days of those who have directed their understandable confusion and anger at innocent people simply because they share an ethnic or religious background with the presumed perpetrators of these horrendous crimes, or simply because they look different from the majority. To attack innocent people is to do what those responsible for these criminal acts have done, and to do violence to the ideals on which this university and this nation were founded."

She asked members of the University community to honor the memories of those who lost their lives "in the ways we choose to live our own lives in the challenging times that we know lie ahead."

A glance through the crowd found pensive faces and heads bowed. The reverent atmosphere was interrupted only by an occasional cry from a baby or question from a child. Many wore patriotic dress as they assembled on the sunny, fall day with weather much like Tuesday's.

McPherson compared the events of this week to those that occurred during the Civil War. "The resiliency of our institutions and our society are being sorely tried," he said. "But they have been tried before and have survived, indeed have emerged from the trauma stronger and better than before."

He said, "In the spirit of (Abraham) Lincoln's second inaugural address, let us also forswear malice even as we as a nation go forward 'with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us ... bind up the nation's wounds and do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.'"

In a moving and poetic address to those who died in the tragedy, Morrison said, "Some have God's words. Others have songs to comfort the bereaved. But if I can pluck courage here, I would like to speak directly to the dead. But I would not say one word until I could set aside all I know or believe about nations, war, leaders, the governed and ungovernable."

She continued, "To speak to you, the dead of September, I must not claim false intimacy or summon an overheated heart just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say. No words stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself. No scripture older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you have become. And I have nothing to give either, except this gesture, this thread thrown between your humanity and mine. I want to hold you in my arms. And, as your soul got shocked of its box of flesh, to understand, as you have already done, the wit of eternity, its gift of unhinged release, tearing through the darkness of its knell."

Muldoon read a poem, "September 1, 1939," by W.H. Auden about the day Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. The poem captures the fear and emptiness of the time, but ultimately affirms, "We must love one another or die."

Tienda urged all universities to draw upon their strengths to help educate a global student body.

"We've all asked why," Tienda said. "We thirst for understanding and guidance about how to respond. Institutions of higher learning have an important role in promoting understanding, not in terms of reason, in this instance, for these were unreasonable acts; not in terms of retaliation, for repeated wrongdoing has never corrected errors; but rather in terms that will help all nations comprehend that we are one world with deeper commonality than our apparent differences convey."

She said the country has been called upon to rise above simplistic responses.

"As a nation we have been challenged to rise to a new occasion that will be etched forever in our hearts and in our memory. We are challenged to illustrate once again that we are a world leader; that we will not stoop to the trenches of evil and human destruction; that the word 'united' in our name stands for the strength of our character to become and act as one for global purpose; and that we can and we will lead by example to make world security a global priority."

The service also included readings by students Michelle Hemmat and James Turner; music by University Chapel groups and by Kenny Grayson, foreman in the electrical shop; and an invocation and benediction by Sue Ann Steffey Morrow and Deborah Blanks of the Office of Religious Life.

It ended with a prayer led by Provost Amy Gutmann: "In these tragic times, we pray that the sturdy spirit of Princeton University be a source of compassion and civility, empathy and understanding, to every member of our worldwide community. As we grieve for those who have been lost, we seek inner strength so that our lives may be of service to people in greater need than ourselves. United together seeking justice, and loving truth, we search for the quiet courage, commitment and inspiration that will deliver our country from its present destruction to a more peaceful haven."

For more information about Princeton's response to the tragedies, click here .

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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