John M. Connolly, Acting
President; September 11, 2001
Good afternoon. We are all numb
with shock at the unprecedented attacks this morning on the
World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and other sites. The incredible
cruelty of these acts and the staggering loss of life almost
defy description. Our hearts go out to all the dead, dying,
and wounded, and to all their families and friends.
wake of such insane destructiveness it is right that we come
together as a community to share our disbelief, our
pain, our shock and grief. It is entirely possible that members
of the Smith community have been directly affected by the
events of this morning, and I ask that any such case be reported
directly to my office so that we can offer the appropriate
Although it is our primary purpose
this afternoon to demonstrate our solidarity with one another
and with everyone
by these tragedies, it is also right that we, as a community
of learning, take the first, tentative steps toward understanding
the events of this morning. In many of the conversations
I have had today with members of the community, there was
mention of two other, comparable tragedies that gripped the
nation as a whole: the assassination of President John F.
Kennedy in November of 1963, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor
in December of 1941. I realize that both events took place
before many of you were born, but their importance is hard
I find it significant that on
both of those occasions All-College meetings were convened
here at Smith
to share the grief and
attempt to come to grips with the meaning of what had transpired.
I asked the College Archivist to provide me with the remarks
made on those occasions by the respective presidents of the
College. After the Kennedy assassination President Thomas
Mendenhall spoke movingly of how since the murder "we
have all lived together in the shadow of a national, indeed,
a world tragedy. The first news brought a universal, instinctive
reaction of incredulity and unbelief. Such monstrous senseless
waste could not happen! ...the shock of [the] reality was
universal, rendering us all insecure and even afraid, as
when a familiar landmark is swallowed up in thick fog." Mr.
Mendenhall himself hearkened back to the bombing of Pearl
Harbor 22 years earlier. For at that moment too, he said: "All
Americans were simultaneously and without warning made to
face a reality...which differed starkly from what they
had blissfully been living. Such revelations of how thin
the ice and how cold the dark waters below, how easily our
self-satisfaction and security can be shaken are particularly
hard for an assured and fortunate people to face."
Mendenhall also pleaded with his audience to be tolerant
of the different ways that people might choose to deal with
the tragedy. For surely there is nothing wrong, he said,
with preferring to "take a walk instead of remaining
half-mesmerized before the television screen . . . Here the
mass media of our time have done us a dubious favor. While
they give us all front-row seats with an often macabre immediacy,
their compulsive frenzy to fill up every second so numbs
our sensibilities that we sit drawn together not so much
out of sympathy but rather through inertia."
right after Pearl Harbor, Smith's President Herbert Davis
struck another and courageous note. At the height of
the national war-frenzy he cautioned the community: "Do
not beat the drums too loudly, to rouse all the old fierce
primitive passions; do not let us go into [War], delighting
in the gleam of the beast of prey in the eyes of the young
men. Do not let us abandon all values, and lose ourselves
in easy emotions of rage or hatred." How much more do
those words apply to us right this minute, where we as yet
have no definitive knowledge even of who the instigators
of this morning's heinous deeds were. And whatever nationality
or race they turn out to have been, shame on us if we take
that as license to condemn or hate an entire people or race.
After all, did we condemn all Americans because of the actions
of one Timothy McVeigh?
Mr. Mendenhall closed his remarks
by citing a passage from one of my own favorite thinkers,
the great Roman Stoic philosopher
and emperor, Marcus Aurelius: very wise words for us to recall
at this moment of national bereavement: "Can that which
has befallen you possibly prevent you from being just, lofty,
temperate, discerning, circumspect, truthful, self-respecting,
free, and all else in which human nature finds its full reward?
Remember then henceforth in every case where you are tempted
to become dejected to apply this principle -- not, 'This
thing is a misfortune,' but 'To bear it bravely is good fortune.'"
speaking of good fortune, by a lucky coincidence we have
on campus with us today an alumna of the class of 1964,
Sally Katzen, who spent a number of years working in the
Administration, most recently as Deputy Director of the
National Economic Council. She also acquired a good deal
experience in the administration's anti-terrorist activities.
(Sally, at that time a senior, was in the audience when
President Mendenhall spoke in 1963.) She is going to speak
and we will also have comments from two members of our
Government Department, Professor Donna Divine and Provost
After that our Dean of Religious Life, Jennifer Walters,
will lead us in a few moments of reflection.