I wanted to take some time this morning to reflect on the tragic events that occurred on Friday. We have learned that the shooter shot his mother multiple times before driving to the local elementary school, sandy Hook, where he shot 20 6 and 7 year olds and seven adults before killing himself. I sense that many of us are reacting to these events differently and I would like to know how all of you are feeling and what you are thinking about. For some I am sure the events seem remote or part of what seems to be an almost regular series of violent events. For others the events are too close to our own experience, we empathize with the families who lost their precious loved ones and we think of our own children or the children we teach.
Over the weekend I entered into a dialogue with a good number of your parents, many of whom are struggling with the news and seeking reassurance about your safety. I have learned that we have one family who lives in Newtown where the massacre occurred, one of your grandparents lives there, and many people have a connection to someone who lives in or near the township. Our thoughts go out to those people who are so deeply connected to this tragedy and we support them as they begin the long process of healing.
Since Friday we have learned of many heroic acts of bravery. Teachers and administrators hid their students in closets, kept them calm and protected them from the shooter. We have learned that at least two adults attempted to protect the students by trying to tackle them before they were shot themselves. First responders poured into the school not knowing what they would find, tended to the victims, and helped comfort the living. As adults we wonder if we would have that same courage and we are humbled and moved by their actions.
I feel it is important at this time to give thanks to the people who look out for our safety, the dormitory parents who give up their own privacy to create a safe environment for each of you, for staying up late at night to check you in, lock the doors and keep a vigilant eye and ear. To our safety committee, staff, business office, nurse and trainer, buildings and grounds individuals who work to make this campus safe so we do not have to think about safety. To Hunter North Security who come every night to guard our campus despite how safe we feel it already is. To people like Andy Hungerford and former nurse “K” Horgan who drop everything and race to campus any time an alarm goes off or a distress call is received. These people have ledged their own lives to save you in the event of an emergency.
Since the shootings we have seen outpourings of support from around the country and around the world. While there is evil in this world I believe that it is outweighed by the good, like everything we have seen in the three days since Friday. We must find comfort and hope in the unselfish acts and compassion we have witnessed.
While we are removed from Newtown, CT, I encourage us all to be a part of the healing process. What random acts of kindness can each of us offer in our daily lives to honor the innocent children who died that day and carry on their spirit of enthusiasm, curiosity and love? Your actions can have an impact on our collective sense of meaning, they can help rebuild the trust in humanity that was shaken last week, and help us all lead better, deeper lives.
What else can we do? I heard one person ask that we give blood, something very practical, very real, and very much needed. We can donate money to help the victim’s families or give to agencies that seek to end violence as a solution to problems. I think we can also do more.
Two years ago I taught an English Class titled “Gunfighter Nation” using a book by one of my favorite cultural historians, Richard Slotkin. Slotkin argues that our modern American popular and political culture is built upon a series of myths tied closely to the western frontier and the “civilizing” of the Native Americans through violence. In our English class we read True Grit, watched movies like High Noon and even analyzed the video game Red Dead Redemption to analyze Slotkin’s theories. The myth that Slotkin analyzed argues that guns protected us from the aggressive actions of the “uncivilized” and became a critical part of our self-understanding. After 9/11, Slotkin argued, sadly in his view, that America, as a nation built on the gunfighter myth, knew only one way to respond, with guns blaring.
I discuss this author because I believe this event and the events in Aurora, Colorado this past summer demand that we unpack these myths and look reality sternly in the face. We are a violent nation in a world filled with violence, from the war in the Congo, the wars in the Middle East, to the domestic abuse we see so regularly in the news in this country every day. We must confront the culture that is creating this violence and seek better solutions.
I believe the solution starts here. We have built an intentionally diverse community. Our school is designed for us to learn from one another, to feel empowerment through dialogue with people who think differently from us. We feel strongly that you have roommates not just so you can hang out with someone, but so that you can learn to live with another person even when it can be difficult at times. We require that you study a foreign language so that you can fully understand another person’s culture and find common ground and mutual understanding. We study history so we can understand different cultures and unpack the myths that so often define our actions. We talk about ways to settle disagreements without resorting to violence. We train each other to be leaders in our own ways, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and to make sure everyone feels known. When you leave here and spread out around the nation and around the world I ask you to be voices of reason, tolerance, and hope. This is a time for truth and courage.
I ask that we pause for a moment of silence and then I would like to ask you to ask questions or share what is on your mind.