Thousands of police officers from around the nation and world gathered alongside a similar number of MIT students, faculty and staff today to honor a young MIT Police officer, Sean Collier, who was killed in the line of duty last week.
The memorial service, held at MIT’s Briggs Field on a beautiful spring day, drew a crowd estimated at more than 10,000. It featured remarks by MIT President L. Rafael Reif, MIT Police Chief John DiFava, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and a brother of the slain officer. Other dignitaries in attendance included Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Harvard University President Drew Faust.
Reif recalled that Collier, 27, had “a deep, broad, beautiful sense of what his duty involved.”
“Officer Collier did not just have a job at MIT — he had a life here,” the president said in solemn, measured remarks. “In just 15 months, he built a life with us that was rich in friendship and shared adventure.”
“MIT is a place that celebrates passionate curiosity,” Reif added. “And Sean Collier fit right in.”
Reflecting Collier’s place as a full-fledged part of the MIT family, Reif announced that Collier has posthumously been elected a member of the MIT Alumni Association. “He was truly one of us,” he said.
DiFava spoke movingly of the young officer he last saw less than an hour before last Thursday’s shooting. Adding to the famous sentiments of author and revolutionary Thomas Paine, he said, “These are the times that try men’s intellect, their hearts, and their souls.”
Such events try our intellect, DiFava said, because “it is so difficult to understand why such a senseless, brutal act is perpetrated against such a gentle, caring young man.” Our hearts, he said, “are truly broken … and it’s a daily struggle not to fall into a state of despair.” And these times try the souls of his fellow law enforcement officers, DiFava said, “because we feel almost betrayed by the society we have sworn to serve.”
Some people are born to the calling of law enforcement, he said, citing recollections by Collier’s mother that the young officer had wanted to be a policeman since age 7. “Sean had a plan, and was determined to achieve his dream,” DiFava said.
Part of what made Collier special, DiFava added, was that “he was the same person in uniform that he was when he wasn’t in uniform. His caring and his passion was genuine.”
Biden, in an emotional talk, spoke of the indomitable spirit of Boston and of the American people. “We have not yielded to our fears, we have not compromised our values,” the vice president said in a 28-minute speech.
Biden drew a sharp contrast between MIT, with its spirit of inclusiveness and meritocracy, and those who committed last week’s Boston-area bombings and murders.
“This is a diverse campus,” Biden said. “This is the greatest technological university in the world. It’s black, it’s white, it’s Muslim, it’s Christian, it’s Jewish, it’s Hindu. That’s who we are. You represent every community in the world.”
“You challenge orthodoxy, as they try to impose it,” Biden said, his voice rising. “You are the cutting edge of technology. You make no distinction between the competence of male and female. You are their worst nightmare!”
Those who attack institutions such as the Boston Marathon and MIT will be the losers in the end, the vice president said: “We will not change. They will not marginalize us. They, they will be marginalized.”
“We have suffered,” Biden said. “We are grieving, but we are not bent. We will not yield to fear. We will not hunker down.”
Two of Collier’s brothers, Andrew Collier and Rob Rogers, took the stage; Rogers spoke of their lost sibling.
“He was born to be a police officer, and he lived out his dreams,” Rogers said. He added that the family has been comforted by the “overwhelming support” of “friends, neighbors, officers, students, strangers, old faces and new.” The presence of so many police officers at today’s service, he added, “truly speaks to the respect and bond you all have, and the club that Sean is part of for all eternity.”
Chaplain to the Institute Robert Randolph said, in his invocation, “We say thank you for Sean, for his gifts, his compassion, his energy, his sense of right and wrong. We hold him in memory and we pray that we might see him again. And in the meantime, we live emboldened by the virtues he exemplified.”
The event also featured two performances by singer-songwriter James Taylor, as well as music by Massachusetts State Police bagpipers, the MIT Symphony Orchestra and other campus singing groups. Taylor, accompanied by the MIT Symphony Orchestra and by three of the Institute’s a cappella singing groups, sang his songs “The Water is Wide” and “Shower the People.”
Addressing the thousands of police officers — many of whom traveled long distances, from hundreds of communities nationwide, to join the ceremony — Reif said, “I know Sean Collier was also one of you. … We cannot express the full depth of our respect and gratitude for his service, and for yours.”
“To honor his memory,” Reif said, “let us all sustain in our lives forever that same spirit of generosity and friendliness, kindness and goodwill.”