I will always remember where I was when I realized what was happening on September 11, 2001. It was morning on the East Coast and I was in my undergraduate dorm, getting ready for my first class. One of my sorority sisters—the civic-minded one who always watched CNN in the morning—found me in the hallway and said I needed to come see this. I sat on her bed, my toothbrush in one hand, watching in disbelief and dismay as the towers collapsed and 3,000 people lost their lives.
I don’t remember the rest of the day—I assume classes were canceled, I assume I called my family, I assume everyone wandered around the campus finding support and solace with each other—except for one important moment. The President of Brown University, Ruth Simmons, held a university-wide meeting that evening. I remember crowding into the Salomon Center for Teaching and sitting amid my community as our leader tried to help us process the unthinkable tragedy of this day. Her speech was powerful and galvanizing. Her words gave me comfort, and continue to ring true to this day.
Since September 11, 2001 until today, my personal email signature has been a quote from her speech: “Whatever befalls us, it is our stubborn resistance to despair and our caring disposition that elevates and, in the end, rescues us.” This quote has been the most meaningful set of words in my life. We cannot control what happens to us. We can only depend on our stubborn resistance to despair and our care for this world. We cannot lose hope. The bravest thing one can do is to stand back up after devastation and say, “I still care.”
The sentiments from Dr. Simmons’s speech that night remain relevant, twenty-one years later, and continue to bring me comfort. The (short) speech is worth reading in full, but I’ll end with one more quote: “Let us never forget how privileged we are. Let us never forget to fight to preserve that spirit of caring. Let us not be ashamed to care.”