William and Mary Law School

Dean Douglas's Remarks at 9-11 Ceremony

The following are the remarks made by Dean Davison M. Douglas at the Sept. 8 ceremony at William & Mary Law School commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

No one of our generation will ever forget the events of 9-11.  I had just finished teaching my Employment Law class in Room 127 on Tuesday morning, September 11, when one of my students, Tonia Peake, first told me about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center.  The rest of the day seemed so utterly surreal as I sat with wife Kathy staring at the television set in disbelief.

Ten years later, it is still a difficult task to speak of those events.   Some of you in this room lost loved ones in the wreckage of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, or in that lonely field in western Pennsylvania. 

A firefighter named David Suhr was one of the first to arrive on the morning of 9-11 at the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  He died that day, while trying to save the lives of others.   His niece, Allie, is a first year law student here with us today.

I did not lose a friend or family member on 9-11.   My friend Mike, a Naval officer, left his meeting in a Pentagon conference room in a hurry on the morning of the 11th because he had a report to finish.  All of his colleagues, each of whom stayed behind to catch television updates of the World Trade Center crashes, died a few minutes later.

The stories of lives lost and others scarred forever are not easy to forget.  I am reminded of the little boy whose father died in the World Trade Center who later took his football to Ground Zero with a note: "Dear Daddy.  Please take this football with you to heaven.  I don t ever want to play football again until I can play it with you."

I think, too, of the Solicitor General of the United States, Ted Olsen, who, for the rest of his life, will celebrate his September 11 birthday with the searing memory of one last cell phone conversation with his wife Barbara informing him that her plane for the West Coast had been hijacked and was headed back towards Washington.

But tragedy never walks alone.  As the dust settled and the smoke cleared, stories emerged from Ground Zero and elsewhere of extraordinary acts of heroism and courage - stories of  firefighters and other rescue workers climbing into the belly of the World Trade Center at the cost of their own lives to save others.

I would say that those rescue workers saved the lives of their fellow Americans, but in fact the lives they saved that day were those of the entire world, as the appropriately named World Trade Center housed people from more than twenty nations.

In time, stories also filtered out of the courage of those on Flight 93 who, upon realizing the likely fate of their hijacked plane, chose to fight back.

Those stories and others like them remind us yet again that in the depths of despair, hope does flourish.  To this day, I continue to be inspired by those who, in the face of tragedy,  had the heart and courage to make the ultimate sacrifice - a rich testimony to the human spirit.

Ten years ago, I was touched by the array of photographs of ceremonies of remembrance and solidarity that came streaming across the Internet from around the world in the days following September 11.  One photograph, from outside the American embassy in Berlin, made a particularly strong impression on me.  It showed hundreds of bouquets of flowers and lit candles at the entrance to the embassy on the evening of September 11.  A simple sign read, "God bless the World."

And others around the world paid tribute to our nation.  In Paris, the newspaper Le Monde, never known for its sentimentality for those who live on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, ran a headline the next day:  "We are all Americans."

Events such as 9-11 test our character as individuals and as a nation.  We must continue to walk the narrow path that pursues justice without embracing hatred or denying who we are as a free people.  The balance between security and liberty continues to be a challenge for our nation, particularly for those of us who are pursuing the law as our profession.

As we strike that balance, we will display for the world our character as a nation. 

I wish us all well.

Let us close our time together with a moment of silence to remember those who perished on September 11, 2001.