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President’s Comment: Reflections on Sept. 11, 10 years later

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Featured, Opinions


I was in Boston on 9/11/01, on the faculty of the Boston University School of Law. It was a beautiful morning, but otherwise a routine day as the law school and the university got into the flow of fall term. I had driven our children and several others to their school that morning—it was my turn to drive carpool.

I arrived at the office just in time to hear the news that the first jet had hit one of the Twin Towers. As of that moment, there was still the hope that is was a terrible and tragic accident. The radio was on in our suite of offices and as each person arrived, he or she joined the group of us listening intensely for more news.

When the second aircraft crashed shortly thereafter, of course, we knew it was no accident.

Then we heard about the other planes, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and the scope of the attack was astonishing and frightening. We knew, instinctively, that we were immediately living in a new world—one shaped by terrorist acts that we struggled to comprehend in those first awful minutes. Like everyone, we simply could not believe what we were seeing then, or throughout the day.

I went to find my wife Kathy, who had a quiet place in a university library where she had been working on an article she was writing. I remember seeing her across the room and thinking that she was still in the “old world” and I had crossed over into this new and still uncertain but more threatening world; she was the first person I told who had not previously heard.

I remember as well the e-mails from overseas friends, expressing sympathy and solidarity. Their heartfelt gestures of caring made a major impact on me then and it has affected my response to tragedies in other countries ever since.

After the Nov. 26 bombings in Mumbai, for example, I was on the phone to friends in India that night, offering support. This was largely because of those who called or e-mailed me after 9/11 and the comfort that those contacts provided me during such a frightening and bewildering period.

There are many lessons we can take from 9/11, both as individuals, as a campus community and as an institution. Many of them have been discussed this week, and rightfully so.

But on a personal level, I am reminded that communicating simple caring in times of crisis resonates deeply with those in crisis. It certainly aided me, and that is a debt I will always strive to “pay forward” to those in need.