Release Date: 
Friday, September 11, 2020

September 11: Inclusion and connection after tragedy

Image of NYC with twin light streams

Today marks 19 years since terrorists hijacked airplanes and used them to brutally attack our country. I remember that day very clearly. I was scheduled that morning to begin an on-call period in my new career as an airline pilot. Much has changed since that day, including my career. I am now proud to work with and for you at our College.

We should all pause today to think about what has happened since September 11, 2001. Many of us remember vividly where we were on that day, and how shocked and horrified we were. Yet many of us were not yet born or were not old enough to have a memory of that day.

As I pointed out in last year’s message commemorating this watershed event, I echo the many messages of gratitude to those who served on September 11 and its aftermath. I visited the World Trade Center site the year after the tragedy to pay my respects to those who took action to save lives and secure our country. I encourage you to join me in telling all service members and first responders that we value their work, we honor their sacrifices, and we thank them for making us safer.

With the events of this year, it is vitally important to express our gratitude to all those who make sacrifices to serve and secure our communities and our nation – whether military, civilian, first responders, or frontline workers.

Some of the events of this past year have exposed and inflamed tensions within our country. And I know that many of you have struggled as you have seen loved ones go through quarantines, separation from family, illness, job loss, and unrest. Some of you have lost loved ones, and all of us have lost colleagues. Today’s national mood is somewhat similar to the despair we felt on September 11. It was a very trying time as we shared our astonished grief.

But we then quickly mobilized as a country. We pulled together. We focused on what we shared as people and as Americans. In the aftermath of September 11, there was a palpable feeling that, if we worked together as a people, we could emerge as a stronger and more free society that valued the rich diversity of our people.

We must continue, today, to embrace the hope that we can, and should, work across divisions to build a better world. This is hard, particularly now.

Many of us are feeling isolated, worried, or frustrated. We feel as though events are beyond our control, and some are deeply disturbing. We are physically enclosed, and we are bombarded by voices shouting for us to blame our frustrations or fears on “others.” Division competes with reason. Raw anger masquerades as leadership. And, sadly, this has led to violence in some places.

Hope and teamwork can be hard to find these days.

But hope and teamwork are alive at our College. And this hope and teamwork belong to all of us.

Despite the difficulties around us, we are moving forward as a team. We are tackling uncertainties with a firm belief that—together—we will get to a better tomorrow. We welcome the truth that we need to improve and learn.

In fact, we have begun to enjoy the common work of overcoming adversity.

We have overcome the challenges of moving our classes online and making our campuses as safe as possible. We have faced financial uncertainty by focusing on student service and student success. We have met our enrollment goals. We have worked together, even when we disagreed, to find a path of compromise. And we have begun the difficult task of working on our culture as diverse and inclusive.

This work will continue, and we will approach it differently than we would have thought possible in the past. The mere act of courageously facing what we thought was impossible and moving forward is our testament of hope and teamwork. It shows that we still have the spirit we found as a nation after September 11.

The solemn reflection of September 11 causes us to pause and take stock of where we have been and where we are headed. During that pause, I encourage you to embrace that we, collectively, are the reason for optimism about our College’s future. We can be the support to each other and to our community that honors the loss and death on September 11.

We as individuals can reflect every day on how well we are extending the hand of friendship, the warmth of connection, and the strength that can be found through the productive exchange of ideas. And we can act in accordance with our values.

Let us look for the best in ourselves, and work to bring out the best in each other. When we fail, we will apologize and ask for help to do better. When we disagree, we will do so with respect and a true assumption of our teammates’ humanity and goodwill. Every act of kindness matters, online or on campus. If we continue to build on the hope and teamwork we have created, we will make our College and our community more inclusive and connected than ever.

Russ Kavalhuna