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Reflecting on 9/11

From the President's Desk

To: The Rensselaer Community
Re: Reflecting on 9/11

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary — a somber one — of a tragedy that changed our lives and our country irrevocably. On September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists associated with the Islamic extremist group, al Qaeda, hijacked four airplanes, and carried out deadly suicide attacks against United States targets.

In the 9/11 attacks, 2,997 people were killed, a number rivaling American losses at Pearl Harbor. That day, citizens of seventy-eight countries died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Many of us have memories of that horrific day, while each of us commemorates it in our own way. We remember those who lost their lives — family members, friends, and colleagues. The Rensselaer Community suffered losses that day, as well. Among them were Nicholas Humber, Class of 1963, who was a passenger on American Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center, and Carlos DaCosta, Class of 1984, who worked in the North Tower.

We also remember the self-sacrifice of the first responders, who courageously rushed into those burning buildings to save lives. We honor, too, the heroic actions of the forty passengers and crew members of Flight 93, who came together and sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others. 

That September day twenty years ago, our community grieved with the rest of our nation. We came together as a Rensselaer family to affirm our basic humanity, and our connection to each other. We canceled classes so that students, faculty, and staff could assist with an emergency Red Cross blood drive, and attend an afternoon prayer service. The Student Senate quickly took action to draft a resolution affirming our solidarity as one community that stands together. We contributed funds for the families of those who were lost, and we organized discussion forums to engender understanding and tolerance.

Tomorrow, commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I will offer remarks at the Louis Rubin Memorial Approach, when cadets and midshipmen serving in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps will climb the steps of the Approach — ten times — in memory of the first responders, who made the 110-story climb of the towers at the World Trade Center, and gave their lives to save others. 

As we reflect on that horrific moment, it is important to honor the sacrifice of our military veterans who served in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, spawned by the 9/11 attacks and the fight to defeat al Qaeda. That includes U.S. Army Major General Harold Joseph Greene of the Rensselaer Class of 1980. In 2014, General Greene was killed in Kabul, when a man opened fire on coalition leaders while they were touring an Afghan army military academy. His sacrifice, and that of so many others, was brought home to us again last month with the loss of thirteen of our military men and women (and hundreds of civilians), as the U.S. armed forces were evacuating U.S. citizens and others from Kabul, after twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan. That is why I am further privileged to be joined at the commemoration tomorrow by military veterans who today are part of our Rensselaer Community. 

So, as we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, let us remember how precious the gifts of life and liberty really are. We must never forget the lives lost that day, and since that day. 

And we must never forget the lessons we have learned along the way about the true tragedy of hatred, conflict, and misunderstanding. 

We can all make our world more caring, and more connected. 

We are One Rensselaer.