President Hitchcock's Remarks at
UAlbany Family Gathering
March 24, 2003
We are gathered here this afternoon because these are difficult, troubling, even perilous times. Because in times like these our family comes together – to support one another, to lean on one another, to ease our burdens by sharing them.
We are not here to debate the larger issues of this conflict. Those informed discussions will take place at other times and places. Indeed, I have asked Provost Santiago to work with faculty to develop fora, where those who wish to do so can learn more about the issues – historic, geopolitical, national and global -surrounding this controversial conflict.
We are, first and foremost, a community that believes in the value of knowledge and understanding. We have learned through generations of experience that it is knowledge – mutual understanding – that leads to wisdom. And finding the path to peace always requires wisdom.
We also believe that, in a democracy, it is the duty of every citizen to become as knowledgeable and informed as possible. We elect men and women to represent us, but they do not govern us. In a democracy, we govern ourselves, and we owe it to ourselves and to one another to learn enough to govern ourselves wisely. So I encourage all of you to attend these fora, to learn and discuss reasonably, intelligently, respectfully – as we try to help our nation find lessons that will help preserve peace in the future.
That is why I also encourage our faculty to discuss these issues, to bring facts and knowledge and understanding to the classrooms and lecture halls and seminars of this university. To increase wisdom in times that desperately need it.
But that is not, as I say, why we gather here today. We are here for one another, for the members of the UAlbany family who need our support.
We can each ease our own anxiety by giving one another comfort and strength. In sharing our concern and support for one another, we lessen our own burdens.
There are at this moment men and women struggling and suffering thousands of miles away from Albany, but we all feel a very close connection to them. We are worried about their welfare. We also worry about the possibility that terror will strike once again close to home.
Since January first, 18 UAlbany students have been called to active duty in connection to the action in the Middle East. In addition, 3 staff members have been called to service.
At the same time, family members and friends of many students, staff and faculty have also been called to active duty.
In the words of Shannan French, a professor of Philosophy at the U.S. Naval Academy, "…[we want] them not only to live through whatever fighting they must face, but also to have lives worth living after the fighting is done."
There are also members of our University family who have come to Albany from elsewhere in the world, who are worried about their families and friends back home.
These are members of our UAlbany family – some directly in peril, others right here anxious about their families and friends, colleagues and loved ones. In dangerous times like this we each share their concerns and offer our comfort and support.
We each hope and pray for a quick conclusion to the conflict, for the safety of our loved ones, for the speedy return to peace, for an end to the peril to all those in that region of the world – indeed, we deeply hope for an end to terror and conflict around the world, for the opportunity for thoughtful women and men to continue to advance humanity’s knowledge, understanding, and quality of life in peace everywhere.
In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Uwe E. Reinhardt, a professor at Princeton whose own son is serving in Iraq, put it this way: "CNN recently showed a Marine chaplain admonishing the platoon assembled before him: Pray not only for yourself, he told them, but for your enemies as well. After all, they are just soldiers, like you, doing what they are ordered to do…My hope [he goes on] is that Americans can muster the proper decorum that an enterprise as horrible as war demands. There is nothing neat about maiming and killing people with precision bombs from the air or gunfire on the ground – even if they’re wearing enemy uniforms. Young lives are snuffed out; parents, siblings and lovers weep, and so should we. We want our troops to win a quick victory, to be sure. As the father of a young Marine officer on the front lines in Iraq, I certainly do. But let us heed that Marine chaplain who, like anyone who has ever witnessed war, knows whereof he speaks. Let us hope and pray for a minimum loss of human life – period."
As each of us struggles with our own anxiety and concerns – and our anger and hope – about these events, it is important to know we can come together as a family, to ease our own burdens by sharing those of others.
Look around you at the faces of your fellows. We are a diverse community – many colors, many faiths, many nations. We have created a community of scholars here because we know that human discovery and learning are the best answer to the hopes and challenges of mankind. We can take strength from our own commitment to finding the best answers to humanity’s persistent problems and struggles – and from our commitment to using what we learn and discover here to making a difference in the larger world.
And we can take comfort in these times from the knowledge that we are members of a supportive, concerned and engaged community.
If your worries are too great to bear alone, you can contact the Counseling Center, Middle Earth, or the staff of Chapel House. Or you can talk with understanding faculty, with staff, with students. Conversations like these can help us make sense of these difficult issues.
In the spirit of supporting one another and expressing our concern and support for those of our fellows who are in peril, to express our belief in the value of each human life and in the value of informed discourse, we will now light three candles – one for our soldiers, one for all the victims in this war, and one for the restoration of world peace.
I would now ask the head of the University Senate, Professor John Pipkin and the head of the Student Association, Kirk Douglass, to join me in lighting these symbols of hope.
I now ask that we all take the hand of the person on either side and join in a moment of silence.
Thank you. This gathering is concluded. Please go forth with a renewed commitment to learning, to discovery, to civil discourse, to the hope for a swift end of this conflict and the restoration of peace.