Good morning, class. You most likely do not have school today, due to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. That holiday is the start of the Jewish New Year, a time of celebration and anticipation of the future.
Today, however, is also a day of mourning and remembrance of the past.
You know this day. And you’ve known it all of your life.
You call it “nine eleven,” a day of American national tragedy. You’ve always known this day as part of a somber time in history, when terrorists under the control of a demagogue commandeered vehicles of flight and plowed them into American buildings. Thousands were killed. A nation mourned. And we vowed to find the despot who commanded this army of terror.
In your lifetime, you’ve always known us to be at war in a nation called Afghanistan. Maybe as a kid, you wondered if this was a place where afghan blankets were made, until you learned the truth. We’ve fought there your entire life. And we most likely will still be in Kabul and Mosul and other cities in Afghanistan, fighting on the day you receive your diploma.
You’ve always known to take off your shoes and empty your pockets and walk through a metal detector when you board a plane. You’ve always known that flying requires packing your suitcases carefully, and that you do not joke around with TSA employees or make jokes about flying. It’s not funny any more. You heard your parents talk about “The Friendly Skies” or even some surreptitious, snickering reference to a “Mile High Club.” In your lifetime, you’re used to this somber, distinct reminder that even seventeen years into your life, every flight you take has a tie back to United 93 or American 77.
And then, one Sunday evening while you were still in middle school, your parents gathered around the television, hearing news that they never thought they would hear in their lifetime, the moment when the madman, the despot, was captured and brought to ultimate justice. Maybe your parents were watching The Apprentice that night, only to hear of a news report of major importance. And then, watching Donald Trump fire some employee wasn’t as important any more.
And then, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, came to the lectern and told Americans that a bastard’s horrifying decades-long reign of terror had ended with his capture and death.
During this time, during your lifetime, we started to rebuild. We repaired the Pentagon, where one of the planes crashed into its walls. We turned the scarred ground of Shanksville, Pennsylvania into a memorial for those who perished. And in the shadow of what was once two of New York City’s tallest structures, a Freedom Tower now exists.
In your lifetime, we hvae been wounded – and we are on our way to healing. But the healing is not complete. It may never be complete. It will not be complete ,any more so than the healing when your parents learned of the murder of President Kennedy. Or your grandparents learned of the murder of those at Pearl Harbor.
And no matter how many times the uninformed and narrow-minded tried to drill into you that we were at war with Muslims and Islam, you rejected that concept as false. We were not at war with a religion. We were not at war with an ethnicity. We were at war with someone whose actions were targeted not just at innocent Americans in New York City and in Washington, D.C. – they were also targeted at the U.S.S. Cole and at embassies in Africa and in a twisted belief that the destruction of America was his sovereign destiny.
It was not. We proved that it was not. And we will prove it every day that we help others, that we assist others, that we care for others, that we take away as much hunger and hurt and pain from our neighbors and our countrymen as we possibly can.
In June 2019, you will graduate from high school. You are the first class of men and women who were babies when 9/11 occurred. You have always lived in this world of wars with Al-Qaida and ISIL and the like. You have always lived with this moment as part of your history.
As you complete your senior year of high school, and move on to bigger and better endeavors, take comfort that you have the chance to create a new world, a better society, one more fervent and just and appropriate. You have seen what a despot with unwavering followers can do. And you have seen how Americans will always fight back against evil.
Now I ask you. Fight back against prejudice and hatred and injustice and demagoguery. Make the future a better place for YOUR children and grandchildren and descendants.
For there are those who could not join you in this final year of undergraduate academia.
Honor those people.
And honor us all with your success.