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TCU Magazine Feature

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9-11 and the media | Eyes of the world

Challenge of the century

Nine months to the day after Sept. 11, broadcast journalist Bob Schieffer '59, moderator of CBS's Face the Nation, addressed the largest graduating class in TCU history -- 1,064 students. He told the more than 10,000 friends and family who came to the Fort Worth Convention Center that this generation will be defined by its response to the attacks.

Schieffer's commencement address:

Chancellor Ferrari, distinguished guests, members of the faculty, may I first offer my best wishes to my old friends and new doctors Jim Wright and Bob Bolen for this very well deserved honor.

And most of all may I say congratulations to the graduating classes of 2002, your proud parents and grandparents who always knew you had what it took to get this far . . . and your surprised brothers and sisters who were not so sure.

The psalmist sang of "days that are made in heaven" and surely graduation day is one of those.

What could possibly be a happier time than families coming together to celebrate the achievement of one of their members?

It is a day that holds a different and special meaning for each of us, parents, graduates and even the commencement speaker. And since I am the proud parent of two college graduates, may I first say a word to the parents?

I don't know how you're feeling right now, but when I watched my daughters walk across the stage to pick up those diplomas, I felt as if I had just been given a substantial pay raise.

There's just a lot to celebrate today isn't there?

Graduation speakers enjoy a luxury afforded few people. No one ever remembers what they say. There is a good reason. Graduation is not about what someone says, it is about what you have done.

So you won't remember what is said here, but you will always remember this day. And that is how it ought to be.

Graduation Day is one of life's crossroads. Most of the time we pass through life's crossroads without knowing it. But not Graduation Day. It is clearly marked. We can even plan for it.

Still, it can be a little daunting.

All of your lives you have been students. For the past four years, you have been students at Texas Christian University.

Tomorrow you will be graduates of Texas Christian University.

Now that has a nice ring, doesn't it?

It is also a little scary, but it is supposed to be.

I know because long ago -- back in the year 1959 -- I stood in line in cap and gown at the TCU football stadium waiting to get my diploma.

You are a little apprehensive. My emotions ran stronger: I was terrified.

You see, I was not a candidate for Magna Cum Laude. I was a candidate for Magna Cum Lasty.

I had specialized in Spanish Ð not majored in it, but specialized in it. Graduation required two years of a foreign language. If memory serves, I managed to take four years of Spanish plus one semester in summer school to get those required two years.

And since the grades for the final semester had not been posted prior to graduation, I stood there waiting for my diploma, terrified that I would be pulled out of line and told "sorry, you still didn't pass Spanish."

Fortunately, kindly old Dr. Rominengi, my Spanish professor, put mercy before justice and passed me. Or maybe he was just tired of fooling with me.

In any case, he passed me. I got that diploma and put it in a safe place . . . still not really sure they were going to let me keep it!

I thought about that day when Chancellor Ferrari asked me to chair The Commission on the Future of TCU. It was an unexpected honor to be asked to head that commission and one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, but it is also just as well that most of my professors has already passed on by then.

If they had known that the student they remembered was heading up a group to improve TCU academics, I'm not sure their old hearts could have taken it.

So to those of you who worked hard, I say congratulations. Your hard work will serve you well. To some of the others who may have taken the more leisurely approach than I did, look at it this way: you will be well rested for what's ahead.

And the good news is you still have time to catch up. You still have plenty of time to read the books you were supposed to read. As I did, you'll come to understand why you were supposed to read them. And you'll make a happy discovery. The books are better than the Cliff Notes.

So enjoy this day. You deserve it. This is one down with a lot more to go.

Graduation is a day of passage. What we don't know is where this passage leads. What we do know is that the world you are about to enter is very different than the world of four years ago when most of you came here.

Those were the days when the good times rolled from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, and wars were some other far away place.

And then came Sept. 11, 2001. Even when we saw it we couldn't believe it. A friend of mine was watching one of the morning shows and thought he was seeing a clip from a new action movie. "I stood there waiting for someone to interview Steven Spielberg," he told me. "And then I realized this wasn't about a movie."

Like many of you, my wife, Pat, and I saw it on television and when the first plane hit the tower, we thought it was an accident. Probably the Washington-to-New York air shuttle that I had ridden hundreds of times, and which often takes a flight path that goes past the Towers.

It was the hardest day and the hardest story that any of us at CBS News ever went through and I want to talk about that and tell you how it was for me . . . and what I learned that day.

It was a hard story because it was not just about others, it was about us too. We were part of it. Our friends and families were at risk. Our country was under attack here at home in America. Somebody -- we didn't even know who -- had done what no enemy is history had done...they killed innocent Americans on the mainland of America.

When Pat and I saw the second plane hit we knew it was no accident. I dressed as quickly as I could and headed for the U.S. Capitol where I spend my days covering Congress.

Pat went to Georgetown to keep a long scheduled appointment but as she approached the main thoroughfare there and was looking directly across the Potomac River, suddenly in the distance -- probably no more than a mile or so away -- she saw a huge ball of fire and smoke billow into the sky.

Before the traffic light changed, she heard a radio bulletin that a plane had hit the Pentagon.

She turned around and headed back home, knowing I was en route to the Capitol. From my car, I called our Washington Bureau to get the latest. By then I was at the foot of Capitol Hill. At first our Bureau Chief Janet Leissner put me on hold, then she came back on the line and said, "Get out of there!" She said there was a report that another hijacked plan was heading toward the Capitol and she was trying to reach three of our producers who were already inside the Capitol. She was desperately trying to find them and tell them to get out.

What we would later learn was that the plane authorities believed was heading for the Capitol was the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, forced down by those brave passengers who gave their own lives.

Perhaps I owe my life to them. Who can say? But I shall never forget what they did.

On the Friday before the attack, my own brother had spent six hours in the Pentagon in the very spot where the plane hit. Had the hijackers chosen to strike on Friday rather than Tuesday, he might have died. Who can say?

It was a day when everyone had a story.

In New York, one of the hijacked planes flew directly over the Greenwich Village garden of one of our producers, Tom Flynn. When he heard the explosion, he jumped on his bicycle and raced to the scene. He was there when the first tower came down. As he and another man scrambled shoulder to shoulder to get out of the way, he escaped. The man running beside him was buried in rubble and died.

One of our veteran directors, Eric Shaper, directed our coverage that morning. In a television studio, the director is the key person who tells all the camera crews what to do, the one who surveys a vast bank of TV monitors and decides which pictures to put on television; the person who pulls the entire broadcast together. That morning, he directed the first part of our coverage not knowing the whereabouts of his daughter was worked in the area. When he couldn't locate her, he was convinced she had died. An hour passed before he learned that she and others in her office had escaped and walked to Chinatown.

One of our youngest Evening News staffers, Melissa Valcarcel, 23 years old, on her first job out of college, arrived at work shortly after the first plane hit the tower. She knew her father -- who was wheelchair-bound -- worked in one of those towers. Frantically, she called her mother, who told her that dad had called. He was safe. The plane hit the other building. She returned to the newsroom only to watch one of the TV monitors in horror as the second plane hit the second tower. She never heard from her father again.

In the midst of all this, we stayed on the air -- around the clock -- for 93 hours and five minutes -- the longest consecutive coverage in the history of CBS News.

Other news organizations did the same. Why? Because that is what we are supposed to do.

The Wall Street Journal's headquarters are next to Ground Zero and was evacuated in the first hours. As people were asking, "what can we do?" the Journal Editor Paul Steiger said, "We decided what we knew how to do was put out a news paper, so that's what we set out to do." Even though they had to do it from a makeshift office in New Jersey.

When I heard him say that, it reminded me of what Eric Severeid used to say: That democracy demands more of its citizens than any other form of government. But it was not until that day that I really understood what that meant.

On September 11, millions of Americans from all walks and every corner of American life met the demands of democracy by doing what they knew how to do. Because they knew it had to be done. And because they knew it was their responsibility to do it.

And that is what heroism is -- having the wit and courage to do in extraordinary circumstances what we would do in normal circumstances.

America had many heroes that day, and it was a day I was never prouder to be an American.

That afternoon, congressional leaders decided that no matter what, Congress would convene the next day to show whoever was behind all of this that they could not shut down the U.S. government.

That night, 300 members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps and vowed that the acts of terror would not stand. Spontaneously, they began to sing God Bless America. It was the most moving scene I can recall in all my years in Washington.

In the coming days they were able to put partisanship aside and approved -- unanimously -- 40 billion dollars in emergency aid. Yes, when congress must work together, it can work together and it did.

The next day, as I drove to the Capitol, I could sense that something was different. It took me awhile to understand just what it was, and then it hit me. There was no road rage. People honked, gave right-of-way and waved.

At the Capitol, people were speaking to each other. It was as if we had all discovered there were others around, others we had not really noticed. But we had all been through something we would never forget and we had been through it together.

Some would say we are a different country since 9-11, but I am not so sure.

I am old enough to remember an America before the traumatic events of the Kennedy assassination, and the lies and deceptions of Vietnam and Watergate, events that left us cynical and caused us to lose faith in our institutions, our government and eventually each other.

But that cynicism began to fade on 9-11. Of course Washington is still a partisan place, that's as it is supposed to be. But those we once saw as heroes -- firemen, policemen, soldiers, those who are willing to risk their lives for others -- are being celebrated as heroes once again.

9-11 has reminded us that there is a difference between heroism and celebrity, a distinction we somehow forgot.

We also relearned something else we may have forgotten. The government is just us, working together to do what we cannot do alone. Perhaps the most important thing we learned on 9-11 is that we need each other.

September 11, 2001 was the darkest day since Pearl Harbor, but I believe we are stronger than we were on September 10th.

If I ever doubted that, that doubt was removed last month when I went to see Melissa Valcarcel, the young CBS staffer who lost her father in the attack on the Towers.

She told me the FBI had asked her if she would be willing to testify at the trial of the hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, to show the loss the families had endured.

I asked her if she planned to do it, did she understand the danger, that the publicity could make her a terrorist target?

Here is what she told me: "I loved my Father. I want to do it. I have to do it for him."

To those who graduate today I say, if that is the kind of courage, if those are the values that your generation it taking into the future, then we will be all right.

This is a time that requires not only courage and perseverance, but patience and understanding.

If you should come to Washington, you will find the most beautiful city in the world now marred by ugly barriers and concrete barricades.

For security reasons, Pennsylvania Ave. is blocked off to traffic around the White House. The Capitol is barricaded off like the palace of a tin-horn dictator.

Soon hidden cameras will follow your every move if you should choose to walk among the monuments that are the symbols of our freedoms.

We tolerate all of this as necessary. But we must never accept it as the way it must always be.

In 1940, Winston Churchill went back to Harrow where he was schooled as a boy and when the young students asked for advice, he told them only this: "Never give in. Never, never, never."

We must never give in to terrorists. We want it as it used to be and we must settle for nothing less.

When a free people cannot walk freely among the shrines and symbols of their freedom, they are no longer free.

Terrorists cannot be appeased anymore than the Nazis could be appeased. As our parents and grandparents understood, they must be defeated.

The Nazis built the greatest war machine the world had ever known, but Roosevelt and Churchill recognized the real danger was not the weapons, but the hatred that drove them.

So too we must recognize that barricades around the nation's capitol can make us a little safer, but we can never be secure until we eliminate the ignorance and hatred that drives the terrorists.

That will require more than military action, it will require telling America's story better than we have told it. It will cost enormous sums and in many cases it will require massive rebuilding and education programs.

But we have no choice. Millions of people around the world are raising their children to hate us. Somehow, we must convince them that they are wrong.

That will be your challenge. It will be difficult but it can be done. What you must remember is that even more difficult tasks have been done before, by our parents and grandparents when the Nazis threatened to plunge the world into a new Dark Age.

By Lincoln, when the country was literally coming apart, and by the founders who led history's first successful revolution against a Colonial Power, a country that was one of the "superpowers" of its day.

You come after great men and women who were able to accomplish great things working together.

Look to them, to their courage, to their values, and there you will find your strength to confront the problems of your time.

For all that we have endured, the great lesson of 9-11 is that the human spirit still prevails. What you must never forget is that is does so only because good people are there to nurture it.

As you think back on this day, remember why you felt so good. It was not because you will soon have a piece of paper that says you have graduated.

It is because you set out to do something and you did it. It is because you have enriched your intellect and because you have enriched your lives with the friendships that come from the shared experience of a worthwhile task.

Remember this as well.

Until you sit where your parents sit, and your children sit where you sit, you can never know how proud your parents are today.

And of all there is to know, that is the very best.

The very best of all.

To comment about this article, write to tcumagazine@tcu.edu.

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