Four years ago today, I delivered an address here at my institution in memory of the first-year anniversay of 9-11. Reading over the text of that speech, I wonder how well we have responded to our moment of responsibility?

September 11, 2002:

“ALWAYS REMEMBER.” We are not likely to forget. The images of that day are seared into our national memory. September 11th is one of those exceedingly rare universal moments of history, in which all Americans, for as long as they live, will recall with absolute clarity where they were and what they were doing when the reports of the attacks first reached them. So many of us were on campus when we first heard the news, first viewed the startling pictures, and grappled to make sense of the tragic spectacle as it unraveled before our eyes.

Our initial reactions differed. Many of us reached out to loved ones via the telephone. Some of us paused in silent meditation. Or perhaps we could only watch in stunned silence. But then, after that, we turned to each other for solace. It is appropriate that we congregated again not only to honor the heroes of September 11th but also to reflect together on our world then and our world now and the world that we will make.

Today our students presented selected historical readings, which included Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Daniel Webster, Franklin Roosevelt, Barbara Jordan and John Kennedy. It was especially moving to hear the collected wisdom of our past proclaimed in such powerful fashion by the caretakers of our future. They emphasized the words of Lincoln as he addressed the crowd at Gettysburg so many years ago. I am struck by Lincoln’s poignant and forceful appeal to Americans of his generation, exhorting his listeners to complete the work left undone by the valiant warriors who sacrificed their lives at Gettysburg.

Today we placed a memorial wreath, the Marines fired off a salute, we shared a moment of silence and we read a poem to honor our countrymen lost on that catastrophic morning one-year ago. During the moving memorial many of us shed a tear in their memory. All of those gestures were good and fitting and necessary. We do well to commemorate our fallen citizens in that way.

However, those emotions alone are not sufficient. The honored dead deserve more; they demand more. Lincoln was right. Webster was right. Kennedy was right. Those honored dead don’t cry out for our sympathy, they call out fervently and surely for our commitment. The distinct and compelling voices of our past entreat us to act boldly, and they remind us that our sacred obligation of citizenship is now due.

"Always Remember." Certainly, we will remember. We will remember the tragedy and terror and chaos of that day. We will remember the heroism of New York City, the brave men and women of Flight 93, the heroes of the Pentagon, and countless other acts of valor that summon hope and lament simultaneously. We will always remember them. We will construct monuments of steel and stone so that future generations will remember them also.

But will anyone remember us? Will we respond to this defining moment with humanity, brotherhood, resolve and dedication? Will our reply to this test of national and individual character be worthy of our heroic past? Our answer must be yes. Invoking the “better angels of our nature,” we will defeat the external threats to our freedom, fight tenaciously in defense of our domestic liberty and continue to strive toward fulfilling our “national purpose.” In the end, total commitment to those ideals offers the most profound memorial to our fallen brothers and sisters. May God rest their souls and bless our efforts.