Dahlia Michal Gruen's 9-11 Commemoration Speech

Dahlia Michal Gruen 
School of Education and Social Policy - 2014

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

Today is my twentieth birthday and instead of celebrating, I am standing here at a commemoration service. Ten years after the attacks, I still ask how can I move on and celebrate while commemorating and showing respect to those who were lost, and the pain their families--and we as a nation and global community--feel?  Why should I even care about something as trivial as my birthday when much more significant and painful events occurred on that date?

This juxtaposition is heightened by the fact that the attacks are referred to by the date 9/11.  And so the date gets a reaction whether it is said in the context of a discussion on world events, or in response to the "Birthdate:" line in a form.  "Oh wow, what a terrible birthday!"

I was 10 on the day of the attacks and I soon realized that the bad that occurred on September 11th could be countered by all the good that arose on that day -- from the heroic and caring efforts of people at the sites, to the good people do every day in their normal lives regardless of the date.  And yes, all the regular, good, people who happened to be born that day.

As someone with a connection to 9/11, I felt a bit of a sense of obligation -and a personal interest - to make sure to heighten this good.  So I created a small website to  "acknowledge all the good that came on a tragic date" and to see if others who shared this birthday had similar conflicting feelings -- and a desire to use the date as an impetus for positive actions. I would like to share with you some of the stories that I have received.

This is one from a mother describing the birth of her daughter: "My daughter was born at 9:53 am on September 11, 2001 -- right about the time of the pentagon attack and the towers falling.  That was quite a tragic day to bring such a beautiful little being into the world. Since then, what's become important for me is to show my children that you can carry on with your life and still respect the people we've lost in such a tragic way.  Life keeps going, but that doesn't mean you ever have to forget."

Another woman also wrote about her son's birth: "My first son was born on September 11, 2010.  My water broke around 3:30 that morning, and I remember saying to my doctor, 'I really didn't want him to be born on 9/11; any other day would have been just fine.'  She said to me, 'He isn't the first baby I've delivered on 9/11, and the way I look at it is this: something wonderful is happening on this tragic anniversary, and America needs that.'  Ever since then I've viewed my son's birthday as the most special of birthdays, and we will always celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us as we celebrate his birth each year."

A few days ago, I received an email from a teenager whose father was saved because of his birthday: "My dad actually worked at the Pentagon when the attacks happened. He took the day off to celebrate my third birthday. His office was crushed in the explosion and my birthday being 9/11 saved his life."

I also want to share stories of doing good: "My daughter was born the morning of 9-11 right before the first tower fell. When my daughter turned five years old, we started a tradition on her birthday that I hope we carry on for many years. We make homemade goodies and deliver them to local fire stations and police stations as a way to always remember and to say thank you.  It is something that she looks forward to doing every year and it helps her put a positive spin on the day."

I just received this story about a boy my age who is choosing to do good for his country: "My son turned ten on the day the towers fell, and he was crushed his birthday was subverted to sorrow. But partially as a result, he resolved to do something about it. He is now a second year cadet at West Point and is eager to serve his country."

Another poignant example of doing good is: "My daughter was born on 9/11, 2001.  Our family started a local chapter of Solace for the Children to help 'build peace on a foundation of health' by bringing children from Afghanistan to the US for medical care. Our daughter and two sons have shared our home, and all they have with three children while they were here for treatment.  They have returned home to Afghanistan with health, hope and a greater understanding of America."

I know it was a coincidence that my birthday was on this date, and I know that any feelings I have about it are pretty trivial in the broader scheme ofthings.  Yet the insights and perspective I have received from others who are joined by similar coincidence have been helpful to me in understanding how to move forward with respect, care, resolve, and optimism.  While remembering the lives that were lost, we should also appreciate our lives and the lives around us. And, by doing good deeds in our communities, we are combating the terrorists and proving that we as a nation will not falter.

Thank you.