Memorial Service, Cannon Green
September 16, 2001

Remarks by President Shirley M. Tilghman

Today we gather as a community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Princeton University, together with residents of the Princeton community, to remember those who are missing or who have been lost in the tragic events in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We grieve most especially for those we knew personally -- family members, friends, and colleagues -- and we offer to their loved ones our deepest sympathies. We also pay tribute to the extraordinary heroism of the firefighters, police officers, and emergency rescue workers whose human instincts to rush into a fallen building to help resulted in their deaths, and to the equally extraordinary heroism of citizens from all walks of life who lost their own lives while helping others to safety and to those who seem to have prevented at least one of the hijacked planes from reaching its intended target. We mourn for all the individuals in the airplanes and buildings who were innocent victims of carefully premeditated criminal acts: the secretaries, the bond traders, the custodians, the civil servants, the elevator operators, the office workers, the military personnel, the pilots, the flight attendants, the parents, the children, a cross section of America. We should not forget as well that the World Trade Center was just that: it was home to businesses from 28 countries, and the grief that we feel is felt in those countries as well. May I ask all of you to join with me in a moment of silence in honor and remembrance of all whose lives have been lost to this past week's horrific events?

Some may wonder about the wisdom of conducting this service on a green that is named for an instrument of war. The cannon buried here dates from the American Revolution, the struggle that gave birth to this nation, conceived in liberty and founded on enduring principles of justice, freedom, and respect for others. The cannon is buried face down in a symbolic call for an end to war and a world at peace.

As a university community, committed to the power of ideas and to the search for knowledge, we have begun to seek to understand these still unspeakable events. The United States was chosen as the target of terrorism in part because we are a symbol of freedom. As Richard Preston, distinguished author, alumnus, and neighbor, wrote to me yesterday, "Personal freedom is exactly what the terrorists hate and fear most -- freedom of religious belief, freedom of speech, freedom of economic choice, and freedom to choose a government." As a nation, as an international community, and as a civilization, how can we prevent further assaults of this kind, fueled as they seem to have been by long-standing frustration that grows into hatred and disregard for the sanctity of human life, without jeopardizing these freedoms that we hold most dear?

There is risk moving forward that our principles of human rights and civil liberties will be sharply challenged. As an intellectual community, we have an important role to play in insuring 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. 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.

In the days and weeks ahead, we all together have a responsibility to acknowledge both the distinctiveness of each person's experience and the common humanity that unites us all and 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. I ask each and every one of us to accept that responsibility today.

And so we gather today in a spirit of remembrance, and reflection, and resolve: remembrance of all who have lost their lives; reflection on the lessons we can learn from what they have endured; and resolve that we will honor their memories in the ways we choose to live our own lives in the challenging times that we know lie ahead.

-- S.M.T.