MIT students of four faiths offered prayers for consolation and peace at a vigil on the steps of the Stratton Student Center last Tuesday evening, hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The vigil was organized by the MIT Chaplaincy to provide a forum for members of the community to cope with the terrorism that struck New York, Washington and Pennsylvania earlier that day.
The students, who identified themselves by first names only, recited prayers from the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim religions. In addition, blank pieces of paper were distributed to the hundreds of persons at the vigil for them to write messages that will be collected in the MIT Chapel.
Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, who preceded the students at the podium, urged members of the community to fight despair by taking positive steps.
"The days ahead will be especially sad for some members of our community," he said. "Some will know their loss soon. Others will slowly discover their loss as the magnitude of this event becomes clear. We are all a bit numb and will awaken to the magnitude of the disaster and the consequences for our way of life. The whole episode will tax us as a community, on this campus and as a nation.
"But we are not powerless before this sadness. There are some things that we can do." He suggested the following activities:
- Donate blood.
- Comfort peers who are "frightened, discouraged and sad."
- Embrace fellow students and others who are away from home for the first time, in a foreign country, or may be fearful of reaction to them ("they too are members of our community and deserve our reassurance and support").
- Avoid becoming overwhelmed by rumor and speculation.
"There are no words that can capture the sadness and pain we all feel about the attacks in Washington and New York this morning," he said. "Untold loss of life, injury and the assault on our freedom are unparalleled in our modern history. The consequences of the attacks this morning will cascade in the days to come as the toll of death and injury is detailed.
"This is a time to pray for the injured and comfort those who have suffered loss. It is also a time to nurture the ties that bind us as a community so that we can benefit from that strength in this time of great pain."
Clay also read a statement from President Charles M. Vest that concluded: "My prayers are with all who are touched by this tragedy and I am confident that we will be able to sustain each other through this heart-wrenching time."
Other speakers at the vigil included Chaplains John Wuestneck, Paul Connolly, Amy McCreath and Dean for Student Life Larry Benedict.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2001.