Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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September 11th Memorial Run

September, 2021
Louis Rubin Memorial Approach

September 11th Memorial Run

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

It is my great privilege to be here, and to join the midshipmen and cadets of the New York Capital Region Naval, Army, and Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs.

To the cadets and midshipmen who have joined us from our neighboring colleges and universities, I extend to you a warm Rensselaer welcome. To the veterans among us, it is an honor to be with you.

Today, we remember a piercingly beautiful, cloudless, sunny September morning 20 years ago — when our country was forever altered.

Our cadets and midshipmen are almost uniformly too young to recall the experience of that day, if they were even born by then. So please allow me briefly to describe it. 

For seventeen minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, we were able to retain our innocence, trusting that the collision was an accident — a tragedy, but an unintended tragedy.

However, when the south tower was hit at 9:03 A.M. by United Airlines Flight 175, it suddenly was very clear that we were witnessing a coordinated attack against the United States. Almost everyone felt shock, horror, and fear — which were compounded when a third commercial flight struck the Pentagon.  

The fabric of the world as we knew it was torn apart that morning. We saw hatred and malevolent destructiveness invading our homeland. And almost simultaneously, we saw heroism and patriotism.

The fourth flight of the attack, United Airlines Flight 93, was delayed at Newark International Airport because of routine congestion. By the time the hijackers took control of that aircraft — with their target believed to be either the United States Capitol or the White House — phone calls were able to alert crew members and passengers to the earlier events of the morning. Refusing to give up control of the airplane to terrorists, after a quick vote, they launched a counterattack that forced the hijackers to crash the airplane in Pennsylvania. The passengers and crew of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves, in order to protect our nation. 

It was a day full of such extreme sacrifices, as over 400 first responders to the World Trade Center died trying to get people to safety. Today, our cadets and midshipmen will climb 110 stories, to remind us of the heroes who climbed into the 110-story twin towers before they collapsed, in order to save others. 

In all, September 11th cost nearly 3,000 people their lives — including 55 military personnel who died in the Pentagon attack. Many others were injured. Others suffered terrible health effects from the toxins released as the World Trade Center towers burned and fell.

It was the most lethal terrorist attack in recent world history. Yet, it brought all Americans together in grief, and in gratitude for all those who put their own lives at risk to protect their fellow citizens and to defend our nation. It also brought others around the world together in horror and in sympathy for what had happened to the United States. 

As the United States, and other nations, fought Al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the attack, and waged a global war on terror, many more would sacrifice their lives — including some of our own at Rensselaer. In 2013, U.S. Army Major General Harold Joseph Greene of the Rensselaer Class of 1980 greeted the predecessors of our current midshipmen and cadets, as Guest of Honor at the 62nd annual Joint Services Military Ball of the New York Capital District ROTC. 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. A true Rensselaer alumnus, General Greene was a great advocate for technology in the military, as well as a leader much admired for his empathy.  

Even as we were ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan — spawned by September 11th — a bombing at the Kabul airport cost another 13 American service members (and hundreds of civilians) their lives. We mourn all of them. We are so grateful to all our service members for assisting with the evacuation, and for conveying so many others to safety.

The world has changed a great deal since the morning of September 11th, 2001. We now know the degree to which non-state actors can threaten national security and global stability. We now understand that the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — especially cyber-physical systems that allow for the digital control of physical destruction — are expanding our vulnerabilities and changing the nature of warfare. We are witnessing new tensions, also, among the great powers, and the fact that the lines separating allies, competitors, adversaries, and enemies often are blurred. Most importantly, we have also learned the true tragedy of hatred, conflict, and misunderstanding. 

As we educate our cadets and midshipmen, we are teaching them to navigate the uncertainties of this world with courage and grace. 

You, our future military leaders, are our hope for a peaceful future.

As you run those 110 stories today, and imagine the dangers you someday may have to overcome in order to rescue others, know that our thoughts and prayers always are with you. 

We also want to acknowledge and honor our military veterans, each of whom in his or her own way, has made enormous sacrifices — some with their own lives — to protect all of us and our way of life. We are so grateful to you for your service to us. 

All of you have embraced lives of great purpose. I hope that you have found, and for those just embarking on your military careers, will find, great meaning and fulfilment in your commitment to our country, and to your fellow citizens.

We are very proud of you, and wish you Godspeed on every mission to come.

Thank you!