Raquel Cook, assistant professor at Utah Valley University, remembers being on a shaking train platform in New York City the day two airplanes hit the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001.
Cook addressed more than 400 UVU students and faculty at the 9/11 commemoration held in the courtyard that also featured remarks from UVU President Matthew S. Holland, UVUSA President Tyler Brklacich, an a cappella performance by UVU Voice Line and a balloon release in remembrance of those lost 13 years ago.
She discussed the days that followed the tragedy and explained what she did to move forward in hopes that students would apply the same ideas to work through their own tragedies. Reflection and grieving rather than dwelling in despair, she said, are beneficial.
“When you are in the throes of despair, it’s dark and you can’t see. But if you step back for some perspective, you see that it’s only dark in a very small place,” said Cook.
She encouraged students to allow themselves to begin healing when affected by tragedy, and not waste their time being angry or tormenting themselves wondering how they could have changed the past.
“You can’t pray for a better past,” said Cook. “You might have had no control over what happened to you in the past, but you can choose how to use your energy in the future.”
In one day, she lost 23 friends and coworkers. Within a month, she lost two more to a carjacking and a suicide. In one year, she attended 25 funerals, became a single mother, lost her job and moved across the country.
The event inspired her to go back to school to become a teacher at 32. She acknowledged that tightening security and building barriers will not eliminate hate or acts of terrorism. Teaching young people to listen, she said, can change the world.
“9/11 was a result of hate. But love works. Bitterness doesn’t work. Forgiveness works,” said Cook.
Brklacich opened the commemoration with the presenting of the colors along with the anthem, followed by a moment of silence. Holland recognized the veterans in the crowd and spoke on Americans coming together and remembering victims and heroes.
“As in any full and true act of remembrance, we do more than recollect the things that happened, we resolve to live our lives in ways that strive to honor those highest human ideals manifest in those events,” said Holland. “It would be no doubt unrealistic to think that we, as a nation, could always live like we did in those days, where the threat and devastation seemed to bring out our best selves. But perhaps, in regularly remembering that we had that in us over a decade ago, we can make our day-to-day efforts now, to live together in this large and diverse republic with a bit more generosity, kindness and patience.”
Voice Line performed an arrangement of Homeward Bound by Keith Evans and students released their balloons.
Photo credit: Tiffany Frandsen
Tiffany is the Deputy Managing Editor for Spring 2015. Follow her on twitter @tiffany_mf