Survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing — along with friends and family, law enforcement officers and first responders, and political leaders ranging from Boston’s former and current mayors to Gov. Deval Patrick and Vice President Joe Biden — gathered Tuesday on the anniversary of that horrific event. The tribute featured moving speeches, as well as musical performances by the Boston Pops and Boston Children’s Chorus.
Forty members of the MIT community, including police officers, faculty, students, and staff, attended the ticketed event, which took place at the Hynes Convention Center, just up Boylston Street from the site of last’s year’s attacks. Total attendance was more than 2,000.
One of the day’s many moving moments came when Tom Menino, Boston’s former and longest-serving mayor, took to the podium to recall last year’s events, and received a warm standing ovation. “It will never be easy to be close to that finish line,” he said, where “hate and violence interrupted that beautiful day.” However, Menino added, “This place will always be hard, but this place will always be strong.”
Four survivors of the bombing spoke; many more, along with their families, were in the audience. Patrick Downes, one of those survivors, said that though it grew out of the greatest of sorrow, horror, and tragedy, the caring and selflessness that flowed out after the event was profoundly moving. “I hope that all of you, at some point, feel as loved as we have this past year,” Downes said.
“We should have never met this way,” Downes added, referring to his fellow survivors and their friends and families, “but we are grateful for each other.” He and his wife, Jessica Kensky, newly married at the time of the 2013 marathon, each lost a leg as a result of the bombing.
“I am so proud to be a Bostonian,” Downes said, “because I am so proud to be connected to all of you.”
Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who also lost a leg in the bombing but has begun to dance again on a new prosthetic limb — designed by a team led by MIT’s Hugh Herr, an associate professor of media arts and sciences — echoed that sense of community. “I am thankful for new friendships,” she said.
Haslet-Davis has also been thankful for small moments along the long road to recovery. “No milestone is too small to celebrate,” she said — even being able to walk into a non-handicapped bathroom stall for the first time, and “doing a happy dance.” But on a more serious note, she added, this anniversary should be “not just a day of remembrance, but a day of action.”
What kind of action? Recalling the responses of both professional first responders and ordinary citizens, who reached out to help in any way they could, she urged the audience to “look around. People in your area need your support.” This day, she suggested, should become “a day when we all work together to make this world a better place.”
Patrick celebrated the care and service Bostonians have shown each other in the bombings’ aftermath. “We are, in the end, one community,” the governor said. “I hope we hold tight to that. It all adds up to an enduring example of the power of a common cause.”
Biden, who spoke last April at the Institute’s memorial service for slain MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, said today in Boston that while his career has taken him to some amazing tributes, “I’ve never witnessed a tribute like I’ve heard today.” Addressing those who were injured in the bombings, he said, “You have survived, and you have soared. ... I’ve never heard anything so beautiful as what you all just said.”
Biden said that those survivors “are inspiring, without knowing it, to people all across this country who have suffered tragedy. Your being here gives them hope.”
“You are living proof that America can never, ever, ever be defeated,” he said. Boston’s solidarity and support, he said, have made the city “the face of America’s resolve, for the whole world to see.” As he travels around the world, Biden said, “people know all about you. They know your courage. They know your resolve.”
“We are America,” Biden said. “We respond, we endure, we overcome, and we own the finish line.”