How do we make it real again? What do we now draw from this, when we are nine years later?
In his speech today, Obama said in commemoration of those who died, "To this day, they remind us – not just by how they gave their lives, but by how they lived their lives – that being a hero is not just a matter of fate, it’s a matter of choice." But he also alluded to the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic center at Ground Zero. Other news articles wonder about the debilitating effects of toxic exposure on those who helped sift through the debris on that day and the ones that followed. Nine years later, the effects are true and real.
I was far away from New York, disconnected and barely young enough to understand what went on behind the WTC attacks, and I know that my reflections today take a very different form than those who have felt first-hand that day's devastations. Instead, I went back through my photos of my months spend in New York, remembering the city's daily breath - each oxygen molecule an individual spirit - and the exuberance I felt from every young morning. The above photograph of the Statue of Liberty reminded me of my first trip to New York. I was in junior high. We went with my dad's mother, PoPo, struck by a stroke and in a wheelchair. She couldn't communicate, but I think her eyes were still lively then.
This morning in my defensive driving class (the last saga of my VA speeding ticket), the instructor asked us, "what does your license mean to you?" For some reason, I told him, "freedom." He looked right at me and said, "Now there's a big word. People fight and die for that you know." Then he turned to the rest of the class and said, "We're given freedom, and with that we are given a great responsibility. When we do not act responsibly, we have more and more of that freedom taken away from us. It's a precious thing. Don't screw it up."
Twenty-six, and still I know nothing. There are Afghan girls who suffer from organophosphate gas poisoning, just for attending school. And they go back again and again, because their education is their freedom. There are women in the DRC who live daily with the reality of assault, rape and death. Here, where I breathe clean air, where I can take myself to this place or another on whim, where I feel limitless - this is what I am given because of my charmed life and what my grandparents and parents gave up.
This is beyond a birthday gift. How can I honor it fully? Every day in business school, as the workload increases and the demands of us become stronger, I hear countless conversations about balancing "socializing" with "studying." But that's not really why we're here, is it? Certainly, we recognize that creating bonds of friendship and shared experiences with our classmates is one of the keys to making life-long friendships, ones that may turn into partnerships, that will continue churning the big wheel of global business. We recognize that by proving our aptitude in classes, we further our ability to get a better job upon graduation. Ultimately though, we came here because we want to make something else of our world.
Dean Sheppard popularized the phrase, "Fuqua creates leaders of consequence." Many of us offered interpretations of this phrase in our admissions essays. But today, I think back to nine years ago and I think of my own harvest moon birth. Through some twist of chance, I was given this freedom. Let me live it.