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Rudy Giuliani Gives Commencement Address

Aired May 31, 2002 - 15:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Not far from where flight 93 crashed on September 11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- look who's giving the commencement speech at Stoney Creek High School.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Then they are going to want to know about the even stronger reaction of the very, very brave people who confronted that terror and turned what could have been the most horrid day in the history of this country into also probably one of our greatest days in heroism. People need to know those stories, because they need to know their history. So it's really important that we preserve a memorial and a monument, and it would be a shame if this generation didn't live up to that obligation, because people 100 years from now wouldn't forgive us for that.

I also think of the people that were involved. I think of the people that were involved in the flight over skies of Pennsylvania, on United Airlines Flight 93, and what they did, the way in which they stopped another horrible attack on the United States.

Just think of the incredible bravery, and courage, and dedication, and they are inextricably bound together, Todd Beamer and Tom Burnett and Mark Bingham and Jeremy Click (ph) and all of the other names that I just saw on the plaque. They are inextricably bound together for me with my heroes, my firefighters and police officers that we lost on September 11. They are bound together, I believe, in heaven with Father Michael Judge who was the chaplain of the Fire Department, who was our first casualty at the World Trade Center who was giving the last rites to someone at the time that he died. They are bound together with Bill Fehan (ph), who was the oldest member of our Fire Department and the deputy commissioner of the department. They are bound together with Chief Peter Gamsey (ph), who was the commanding officer who commanded the rescue effort until his life was taken.

And they are bound together with firefighter John Vigiano (ph) -- you can't hear me? You should have said something. I'll start all over again. I'm not used to that. Can you hear me now? All right.

They would never let me get away with that in New York.


GIULIANI: By now they would be protesting. I'll summarize what I said at the beginning, which is that the reason that I accepted Juna's (ph) invitation and the invitation of all of you to come is that I believe that our two communities are bound together in a bond that is going to last forever. New York, America's largest city, this is a representation of what it represents a great deal of the rest of America, small town with people who know each other.

Seeing a graduating class of 36 students is for me culture shock. I'm used to classes of 36 and 40 students. But the fact is that we are now inextricably bound together, because we were the site of this horrible attack in this war of terrorists against us that occurred on battlefields now called the World Trade Center, Shanksville, the Pentagon. And we are also bound together because the heroic bravery of the people who responded to it turned it around.

You just think for a minute of why the terrorists attacked us? Why did they attack us? They attacked us for reasons that if we focused on them would give us the strength that we need to get through this, and it can give these young people the strength with which to lead the rest of their lives.

They attacked us because we are a people of belief. Americans are not one ethnic group. We are not like the French or the Germans or the Japanese or the Italians or the Argentinians or -- you name the group. If I left out a group in New York City, I would have a very large protest. So I can't go through every ethnic group.

But we are no one ethnic group. We are all ethnic groups in America. We are no one race. We are all races. And we are no one religion. We are a country that believes in freedom of religion. So what are we? We are not an ethnic group, we're not a race, we're not a religion. What are these people called Americans?

We are a people of belief. We are a people of the philosophy that we hold together. We believe in political freedom, economic freedom, religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human rights and respect for human life. We believe that women have the same rights in society as men do. Our enemies disagree with that. We believe that you have a right to be a Protestant or a Catholic, a Jew or a Muslim, or any combination, or different set of beliefs within those groups or any group that you want to belong to or not belong to. You decide how you want to communicate with God, or not.

That's what binds us together as Americans. And that's why we were attacked. We were attacked for those beliefs. We were attacked because the people who attacked us hate us for those reasons. And we have to believe in ourselves more now. We have to believe in the things that make America good, and the hope of the future even more as a result of why we were attacked.

The reason that Todd Beamer and the others over the skies of Pennsylvania had the courage to bring that plane down, and the reason why New York City firefighters and New York City police officers and rescue workers were able to go into that horrible building and take people out is because of their belief in the things that I just mentioned. Because they believed that there are things more important than life, and those things include political freedom, and economic freedom, and religious freedom, and they wanted to make sure that they can pass that on to their children. And just like your grandparents' generation or your parents' generation that fought the Second World War, they have that same set of beliefs. So that binds us together and makes us really, really strong.

If I could give any advice at all to the young people here, the graduates who had to go through this horrible experience which they will never forget for the rest of their lives, the advice that I would give them is to keep believing even more in what we are all about. We are the hope of the future.

The way in which those spontaneous acts of courage happened is because these people believed in America and they believed in themselves, and they were able at a time in which they couldn't possibly have prepared for, they were able to call on a reservoir of strength that people who live under terrorism, people who live under desperate -- people who live in authoritarian regimes just don't have. People who live in freedom have ultimate ability to call upon a great reservoir of strength that nobody else has. And the people who brought that plane down and the people who fought at the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon and all of you who responded to try to help as best you could, first to see if you could find survivors and then to comfort the families of those who lost loved ones, all of you were acting out of that reservoir of strength that you have as Americans, and that binds us all together.

The other thing that I'm asking you to remember, because it's hard to ever forget an experience like this, is what constitutes real courage and bravery. Because the acts of courage and bravery overwhelm the acts of terror and hatred.

Real courage and bravery is not as some people think a lack of fear. There are people who when they think of the courage of a police officer or a firefighter or a soldier or a pilot, they think, well, it must mean that they don't feel fear and therefore I'm not like them because I feel fear. Well, the reality is that courage is understanding the dangerous situation that you are going into and being able to do it anyway because you have it.

I would like you to think for a moment about one of my firefighters -- and I call them that because I feel a sense of connection to them -- but I mean a New York City firefighter. He was injured the day before the attack on the World Trade Center, on September 10. And on the morning of September 11, he was in the doctor's office and he was being examined by the doctor to determine whether he should return to duty. And the doctor determined that he couldn't. He was too injured to -- too affected by the fire of the day before. And he was told that he had to go home. And he was put -- he was put on the disabled list for a period of time.

He heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. He went to a firehouse in Brooklyn. He took the bunking gear of another firefighter, put it on, left a note for his mother and his and his sister, and then drove to the site of the World Trade Center. I imagine but I'm not sure -- but I imagine he drove over the Brooklyn Bridge in order to do that.

And if any of you watched the documentary on over the weekend, or some of the others, you can imagine what it looked like driving toward the World Trade Center after the two planes had hit it. It had to be an experience of driving into hell. And the Brooklyn Bridge would put you on what would appear to be an equal distant level to the towers, so you'd have to have seen all of the horror, all of the flames, the people jumping out of the buildings, and the natural human instinct is to run away from that.

He had ever reason not to go there. He was injured. He was told not to report for duty. No one could ever have criticized him. No one could ever have held it against him. And if it had turned out to be a different kind of rescue effort, he actually might have been disciplined for doing it. But he went there anyway.

He had to have been afraid. So why did he go? I went, I'm sure, and I'm reconstructing, but I think I know the mind and heart of the firefighters and police officers -- he went there because he was a big, strong man, he knew he could carry people out, this is what he had been trained to do, this was his duty, his life, his choice, and he wasn't going to let fear stop him from doing what he felt it was his duty to do.

And he went there and he saved, I'm sure, a lot of people, and then entered the tower, the first tower, I believe, right before it came down and lost his life. And we'll never be able to replace him. We'll never be able to replace the other 342 firefighters we lost, the police officers, the rescue workers, the people here, people in Washington, and all those wonderful civilians like the man who I think was 70 years old and he was upstairs in the tower -- like on the 100th floor, 102nd floor, 103rd floor. The elevator was still working and he let some people go down in the elevator, and they wanted him to go down. And he said no, no, no, I'm an old man. You are young. You have your life in front of you. I'll make it down.

And of course he didn't. So think about that kind of courage. It's not the absence of fear. It's being able to manage your fear to do what you have to do. And when I think about that, I think sometimes -- and I have with me today and I would like you to meet him -- the police commissioner who commanded the Police Department of New York City on September 11 and in all those terrible months after that, Bernard Kerik. Bernie, would you please stand up?


GIULIANI: I think about another aspect of courage that I'm sure Commissioner Kerik can relate to because he saw this as I did -- when police officers or firefighters or rescue workers in New York City did a particularly noteworthy thing, usually a brave thing, like take someone out of the East River or go up in a building and pull someone down, or do an air-sea rescue with helicopters, or -- and they do these things not quite on a daily basis but it almost appears like they are doing it on a daily basis, because there are so many people to help and so many of them. I would bring them to city hall in the middle of the day, and I would hold a press conference. And during the press conference, I would have them describe what they did in saving the person in the river or saving the baby or going into the fire or going into a gun battle and taking someone out, and every once in a while this big brave police officer or firefighter would get up in front of the microphones and could not speak. And their hands would be shaking. They couldn't answer the questions of the press about what happened and why it happened.

And at first, I would say to myself, how could this be? This man just jumped into a frozen river and saved a baby, took more courage than anybody that I know would have to do that -- and now he's afraid to talk in front of these cameras and these people. Why? The reason is because he never learned to manage that fear. He didn't have to. He wasn't sworn in to give statements to people. He was sworn in and taught to save people in gun battles or to save people in fires, and he learned how to manage that fear, but he hasn't learned how to manage this fear. And if you have him do it often enough and you have him concentrate on it often enough, he'll learn how to manage that fear as well.

So when you think about courage and you think about these great heroes that we now have so many stories of, here and in New York and in Washington and, you know, across the ocean in Afghanistan, they're really no different than you are. You have got fear. You have got fear of making financial decisions and you have fears about what is going to happen to you after you graduate from high school and what kind of a job do you get or what happens in college or what happens in the military. You are going to have fears about making choices in your personal life.

Just remember that courage is about being able to feel that fear and then going ahead and doing what you believe is right anyway, even if you are afraid. Don't become dissuaded or particularly thrown off course just because you are afraid. If you are afraid, all that indicates is that you are human and not insane.

And then go forward. And go forward based on what you believe in, because that's the second great lesson that we have to take from the horrible attack on us on September 11, that you have got to be a person who understands what you believe, and you have to be willing to stick up for it and to fight for it, even if it's a little bit different than what people want you to believe.

That's what being an American is all about. We are entitled to have our own opinions. We are entitled to develop them in the right way. We have to respect the law, and we should. We have to respect other people's rights, and we must. But ultimately, we are entitled to have our opinions and to stand up for them. And we have to be a people of belief and we have to be a people of philosophy. And that's what got us through. And that's what is going to continue to get us through.

And don't be afraid. Overcome it. We are going to live through very difficult times. We live with warnings of terrible things that can happen to us, and we live with the threat of worse things happening to us than happened to us before. And who knows if that will all happen or it won't happen.

But here's the things to be confident about. All of those terrorists combined can't invade us and take us over. We are too big. We are too strong. We are too powerful. And we are too confident of who we are. That can't happen. This is not England in 1940, when it was possible that the Nazis could have invaded England and conquered England. People of England lived through it. We are as strong as they are, aren't we? They lived through 13 months of being bombed with the possibility that their country could be taken from them. And they didn't back off. They didn't back away. They didn't lose confidence in themselves, and they used it to develop more confidence in what it meant to be a free people, because that's what we share with them, freedom.

And we have to use this to gain more confidence in who we are and what we are as a people. They can't invade us. They can't take us over. They can't take our government away from us. They can inflict some horrible pain on us, of the loss of the people that we love. But they can only take away our freedom if we let them do it, psychologically. And I know we are not going to do that.

This is a really wonderful community. It showed a very, very brave, beautiful and compassionate response to the worst attack this country has so far undertaken, and I do feel a special bond with you and I know everyone in my city does, because what we demonstrated is that whether it's America's largest city or one of America's smallest communities, we responded the way we did not because we are from New York or from Shanksville or we are from Washington. We responded the way we did because we are from America, and we share a love of freedom and understanding of what our rights are all about in common. And that binds us together unlike anything else.

So I'm very, very proud to be here. I would also be remiss if I didn't use this opportunity to congratulate all of the parents, grandparents who are going to be cheering in a few moments for their children who have reached this wonderful milestone. You deserve a great deal of the credit for it, and I congratulate you. I congratulate the teachers and the administrators and the principal because this is a really fine high school. This is a high school that I think any community in America would be proud to have a high school like this in their community.

And one of the reasons I responded as quickly as I did to Juna's (ph) letter is because it was written so well and it was grammatically correct. I get very few letters...


GIULIANI: I have to admit I get very few letters like that.

I would also like to introduce to you two other people who are with me. Dan Connolly (ph), who was the assistant deputy...

LIN: Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, speaking with the 36 graduates from Stoney Creek High School in Shanksville, Pennsylvania who experienced tragedy firsthand when Flight 93 crashed in a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The mayor said that his city, New York City, and Shanksville, as well as Washington, D.C., the survivors of the Pentagon all are inextricably bound now by the tragedy and the human triumph of spirit out of the September 11 attack.




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