Two years ago, I woke up to a beautiful morning. I had just returned from a trip to San Diego the night before. My girlfriend and I had flown out for the weekend. She met my parents. We spent Saturday at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. On Sunday we watched my favorite football team destroy her favorite football team at San Diego's stadium to open the NFL season. We flew back on Monday. And on Tuesday we woke up to a beautiful fall morning, one of those crisp, clear, sunny autumn mornings that give New England a good name. Everything was right with the world.
As Keya and I climbed into her car to go to work, Jeff called. "Derek, where are you? Are you okay?"
"We're on our way to work. Why?"
"You're in Boston? You're not flying today?"
"We got back late last night. Why?"
"A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."
We all know the rest of the story. We all experienced the day's events in different ways as they unfolded.
At first I was surprised, even shocked, but in the same sort of way I was when the Challenger exploded, when the Federal Building in Oklahoma blew up, when schoolchildren were massacred in Columbine. It was tragic. I was upset. But it was remote, the sort of thing that you hear about but never really hits home.
But then we found out that one of our Ph.D. students was travelling with her husband and her 2-year-old daughter that day. Then we found out that they were travelling from Boston to Los Angeles, and that the hijacked planes were travelling from Boston to Los Angeles. Eventually we found out her flight number. And then we found out the flight numbers of the two planes that hit the towers. One of the numbers matched. Suddenly it wasn't so remote anymore.
Sue Kim Hanson was awarded her Ph.D. posthumously. All that she had left to complete was her thesis defense, and her committee felt unanimously that she would have passed with flying colors.
The School of Medicine decided to institute an annual lectureship in Sue's honor. Today we are hosting the second annual Sue Kim Hanson Lecture in Immunology, with an invited speaker, Dr. William Paul, a leading immunologist and Director of the Immunology Laboratory at the NIAID (part of NIH in Bethesda). Dr. Paul has donated his honorarium to the Sue Kim Hanson Fund at Boston University.
September 11, 2001, was tragic. But September 11, 2001, was an opportunity. An opportunity for the United States to come together and show the world its greatness. To show the world that in times of national need we as a people could unite together and overcome. The world community responded to the attacks with shock, with sympathy, with support. They grieved with us. It was our opportunity to show our better side, a chance to be magnanimous, to join with the international community in standing up and making this world a better place.
The months following 9/11 may have been our lowest, darkest moments as a nation, but it was our proudest moment as Americans. I have never witnessed such an upwelling of goodwill, solidarity, and patriotic fervor.
It didn't last. We blew it. Just two years after the attacks of September 11, we have gone from being the world's heroes to being the most despised nation in the world. Two years ago I was proud to call myself an American; today I am embarrassed by my country. Our administration saw an opportunity, but a different opportunity: they saw the opportunity to carry forth their agenda of unilateral world aggression. The initial response of anger, courage, strength, and solidarity crumbled away as we as a nation allowed ourselves to fear, allowed fear to hold sway in political decisions.
We missed Franklin Roosevelt; we needed someone to remind us that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Instead, our administration told us we had to fear each other, we had to fear people of different colors and creeds, of different sexual orientation, of different economic status. We had to fear our peaceful neighbor to the north and petty dictatorships on the other side of the world that barely possessed the military technology to hurt its immediate neighbors much less us. We used the tragedy of 9/11 to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots in our country, to take away inalienable civil liberties, to promote an agenda domestically and overseas that benefits huge corporations at the expense of the average American and destroys nations in an effort to sate our thirst for oil. And we ignore legitimate threats to national security: North Korea, the India-Pakistan conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian idiocy, unemployment and school closures in our own country.... We should all be embarrassed...hurt...angry. They gave their lives for nothing that September morning. We let it be for naught.
My thoughts and prayers are with Sue and the other victims of September 11, 2001.