As the 9/11 anniversary approaches, I find myself thinking not just about that terrible day, but about how the nation and our campus community came together in its wake.
We came together in mourning, but also in community support through activities like blood drives and fundraisers for the victims of the tragedies in New York and Washington. There was debate and dissent certainly, but there also was a shared sense of loss, anger, and urgency that existed alongside hope and purpose.
As today’s college students, you are the 9/11 generation. You have seen the world change in unimaginable ways. You have grown up in a color-coded era of terrorism threats, heightened security and sacrificed personal freedoms.
You might barely remember the brief moment of unity and hope that followed 9/11. For you as children, it might have been experienced as longer hugs from your parents, peace banners made in church, or school tours of police and fire stations. To you, it might have felt like love and support, and if it did, so much the better: for these are what we need now.
Today, as we remember the dark events of 10 years ago, I call upon our campus community to re-capture the unity and profound sense of responsibility that resonated after 9/11.
We can start by looking out for each other: by being good neighbors, good friends and conscientious members of the community.
We must safeguard one another, whether by intervening when students or members of the community are targeted because of their race, national origin, religion, or any other difference, or by making sure friends get medical attention if they’ve had too much to drink. We need to check on our friends and be their keepers — stewards of their physical and mental well being.
As students devoted to learning and scholarship, we must reach out and understand the world’s complexities — its peoples, cultures, and the long reach of history into the present.
As CU students, you have always responded to these global demands, whether as Peace Corps volunteers (we are the nation’s top school for participation this year), diplomats, scientists, military officers, or community volunteers.
The CU Buffs have taken a page from the 9/11 legacy of unity with their slogan of standing “Shoulder-to-Shoulder.” It’s not just a line from our fight song — it’s a challenge that speaks to what you, as the children of 9/11, can do to honor an anniversary and confront the challenges of the present and the future.
Philip P. DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder.