As graduating seniors leave New Haven this week, they will undoubtedly take with them a host of Yale memories. Some will remember personal milestones: earning a coveted fellowship, scoring a winning goal or taking a final bow. Others will commemorate the individuals — professors, friends, lovers — that made these four years special.
But one image — of glassy eyes glued to the horrific pictures replayed on television — will be oddly juxtaposed with these intimate memories.
Just as members of the Class of 2002 asked their parents where they were when they first heard about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, one day this year’s seniors will be asked where they were when they learned of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And the answer for these 1,300-odd men and women will inevitably include Yale. Although that day would touch so many people so personally, the “where were you when –” memories — of watching CNN, reloading The New York Times’ Web site, hearing a professor make an announcement — remain impersonal and superficial.
But long before addressing the inquiries of curious future progeny, members of the senior class must assess the implications the attacks have had on their own lives.
The nightmarish events of Sept. 11 affected Yale in a way that previous attacks on our nation have not. The assailants targeted our tolerance and freedom of thought, two of the central ideals to which Yale as an institution subscribes. They targeted a landmark that symbolized American power and economic wealth. In that way, they targeted Yale with its tradition of producing the powerful, and yes, the wealthy.
Yale graduates have and can continue to change the world. If the events of Sept. 11 tell us nothing more, they glaringly demonstrate that this world is crying out for change. How this year’s graduating class responds to this challenge has the potential to shape the world of future generations.
But on a more personal level, the attacks of Sept. 11 pose an intimate challenge addressed to the core of each member of the Class of 2002. Although daily life has since regained its nearly unaltered rhythm, Sept. 11 challenges us below the surface. It calls upon everyone — not just today’s Yale graduates — to re-examine their lives and internalize the effects of Sept. 11. With a Yale education, today’s seniors are prepared for many endeavors. But none are more important than the introspection that can mean the difference between a life dedicated to evolving ideals or a life dedicated to preserving outdated values and ill-fitting perspectives.
Many years from now, our children will ask us to recall Sept. 11. The greatest obligation facing members of the Class of 2002 is to ensure that their answers go beyond the “where were you when –” trivia and instead address the profound effects Sept. 11 has had on the world, the nation and themselves.