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Remarks by Maureen Monagle '04
Co-chair, Arts Alive program
Commemorative Assembly, September 11, 2002

"There is no strength without unity," reads an Irish proverb.

On September 11, 2001, we, at Princeton, stood united. As some of us struggled to locate loved ones in New York, others gave blood, worked at Red Cross stations, and ventured into the city to help in the rescue efforts. But in the aftermath of tragedy, many sought to make a deeper and more lasting impact.

In June, a group of Princeton students attended a performance of "The Lion King" on Broadway with Arts Alive. Princeton's guests that night included 100 people who had lost parents and spouses on September 11. Sitting behind us during the performance were a mother and three red haired, freckle-faced children. All wore the fire badge of their father, a New York City firefighter who valiantly answered the call to duty on September 11 and never returned. It was Dana's birthday, the first without her father, and she was thrilled to be at her first Broadway play.

We often underestimate the impact that live arts can have upon people. That June night, as we watched a story about the loss of a father and the grief, guilt, and ultimate understanding of his son, the impact of the play upon these children was clear. The lyrics of Endless Night, a song in "The Lion King," are as follows:

I'm trying to hold on
Just waiting to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare

I know that the night must end
And that the sun will rise
I know that the clouds must clear
And that the sun will shine

After seeing the performance, one mother wrote "My daughter lost her husband, a New York City firefighter, on September 11. There are very few things that she has looked forward to since that day, but she was so excited about receiving tickets to 'The Lion King.' If your organization's intentions are to bring joy and awareness of good things in a sometimes-cruel world, through the magic of stage and all its counterparts, then you have achieved your goal." In the last year, Arts Alive has enabled more than 10,000 children affected by September 11 to attend live arts events. But the impact of Arts Alive was far greater.

Children learned about astronomy from Princeton astrophysics graduate students at the Rose Planetarium. Third graders in Queens learned about the literary concept of "anthropomorphism" before going to see Beauty and the Beast, and middle school students in the Bronx learned about Shakespeare from Princeton students dressed in 17th century costumes. Seventh graders broke stereotypes when every member of a class sang his or her name operatically, and one class that had seen "Aida," even learned the hieroglyphic characters to spell out "I Love New York." There is no question that Princeton students enhanced the live arts experiences of the children. And, in turn, the children instilled confidence and hope in Princeton students. Weeks earlier, the same children had watched bodies being carried through the streets from the windows of their classrooms. They had endured months in makeshift schoolhouses, and they had lost parents and loved ones. The strength and resilience of New York City, and of America, were seen in the smiles of the children as they danced to "Be Our Guest" and reenacted fairy tales.

A question that we heard repeatedly was "Where is Princeton?" Michael Ritter, a member of the class of 2003, wrote an editorial in The Daily Princetonian last year that raised this question. I pose it to you again today. Where is Princeton? It is certainly in classrooms and lecture halls, in performance spaces and on athletic fields. But in the aftermath of September 11, Princeton extended far beyond Fitz Randolph Gates. Princeton was in the classrooms of New York City. Princeton was in the suffering cultural venues of New York. Princeton gave thousands of students their first exposure to live arts and enabled them to dream. If only for a few hours, Princeton relieved children affected by September 11 from some of their suffering. Where is Princeton? Princeton is, and always will be, in the nation's service and in the service of all nations.


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