University of South Florida

America’s Best Is Yet To Come

Dear Faculty, Staff, Residents and Students:

Twenty years ago, I was finishing a meeting in my office at Bellevue Hospital in lower Manhattan when a nurse told me that “a small plane had hit one of the World Trade Towers.”  I went to a nearby patient family lounge where the staff were intently watching a TV showing smoke coming from the first Tower. It was clear to me from the extensive damage visible that this was not caused by a small plane, this as I watched a second jet hit the adjacent Tower. So began a horrific day that would take the lives of two of my patients’ husbands, a friend and America’s sense of invulnerability.

The horrifying images of September 11 have now been deeply seared into our collective memory. And although Americans under 20 cannot remember a time when our nation was not at war, most of us will never forget how we felt that day in 2001.  We each seem to have our own stories of when we learned our nation was attacked and how the proceeding events left a lasting impact on ourselves, our families, our friends, and our nation. I am still haunted by the pictures of hundreds of missing people taped to the gate outside of Bellevue. We will also not forget how for a brief time, our country came together in an incredible display of unity, grief, patriotism, and strength to honor those who lost their lives and to demonstrate our resolve to the entire world.

September 11, 2001, was followed by long and costly wars, and perhaps all of us had moments when we pondered if and when America’s incredible investment of treasure, blood and tears would end.  Twenty years is a long time to wonder if your nation is doing the right thing, and it may be many decades more before we can fully comprehend how America has changed, and whether for the better or worse or both.  But until then, there are a few things in which we can take comfort: we can remember a clear blue-sky day in September when our nation rediscovered heroes, sacrifice, and the price of freedom. We can take comfort in the notion that we have since helped thousands of people escape oppressive regimes and gain access to freedom, education, and opportunity. We can note with pride that by rebuilding the World Trade Center, repairing the Pentagon, and fortifying our points of vulnerability, we have shown the world that terrorism never really achieves anything beyond the misery it creates in the moment.

But we have also learned a great many difficult lessons that must never be forgotten. We have learned that even great powers like America can be humbled, and that our nation’s military must never be what defines us but must always be at the ready to protect the ideals that distinguish us.  And perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned that democracy and liberty are very fragile gifts that must be vigilantly guarded and permanently nurtured.  It takes more than slogans and weapons to build an enduring democracy, but it takes no more than these to destroy one if people lack civility toward each other, mistrust their institutions, and fail to develop a common higher moral purpose.

While the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan and discord at home over implementation of basic public health measures have caused a few of us to despair, I remain optimistic about our future. America has always had to struggle to attain the heights of its promise.  But in the decisive hours, when the world has need for great feats and great heroes, we can be justifiably proud that our nation has always come together and risen to the ready. Twenty years after 9/11, I believe this still rings true and that the best of America is yet to come.




Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM
Senior Vice President, USF Health
Dean, Morsani College of Medicine

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