While the World Trade Center was burning and collapsing, while the Pentagon was absorbing the crash of a commercial airliner filled with innocent souls and while a wounded nation gathered the evidence of heroism aboard United Airlines Flight 93, I was preparing to give the keynote address to the North Carolina Telephone Association Executives Conference at the Pinehurst Hotel.
The ominous reports began arriving seconds before I stepped to the microphone. The executives, with only sketchy details of what was happening, decided that I should go on with my remarks.
As I looked out over my audience at this pivotal moment in our national experience, I felt a brotherly solidarity with the people in that room. We were Americans. And I knew that whatever the threat, whatever the origin of this instant of infamy, this nation — our country — would endure and excel.
I am an American by conviction, North Carolinian by choice. When I came to the United States as a penniless youth, I knew — even before I knew the language — that this was my country. I had to fill out 38 forms, side A & B, to become an American, and I’ve told 6,000 audiences over the last 35 years how thankful we all should be to live in a land so abundant in material and spiritual riches.
As I look back over the decade that has passed since that awful morning, I remind our family at High Point University how heartened we all should feel of patriotic sentiment from Americans of all races, creeds, and economic levels.
As I have crisscrossed America to address audiences in all corners of the land, I have spotted a heartwarming trend. I find myself much more often flanked by the national colors as I stand on the podium. I hear the National Anthem played much more frequently. And I have noticed the re-emergence of our “Second National Anthem,” the poignant call to patriotism sounded by Irvin G. Berlin in 1938 “while the storm clouds gather from across the sea”: God Bless America.
That song became the unofficial anthem of September 11, 2001, and it expresses not only a hope but also a fact: God has blessed America in manifold ways. It’s a fact that we seem to acknowledge most fervently in moments of national danger or distress, but it’s something we should keep in our hearts in good times and bad.
We are a strong people, a tough and stable alloy forged from the mettle of many lands. You need only run down a list of the victims of 9-11-01 to sense the aptness of the motto stamped on our coins. E. pluribus unum — “Out of Many, One.”
Since September 11, 2001, we have demonstrated anew the essential integrity of this blessed land. We have survived the attack, learned from it, and committed ourselves to work together to protect this country without sacrificing our freedom and values — even in tough economic times.
Our hearts go out to the families of the victims. We salute them and their loved ones with our prayers, our support, and our desire to help rebuild that which was so unfairly destroyed.
Every day I thank God for the gift of freedom I enjoy as an American, for the blessing of purposeful work, and for the joy that stems from being a member of a vibrant and growing community. At High Point University we honestly proclaim that we are a God, family, and country school. Our United Methodist Church roots define our values.
It’s clear to me that by embracing the dream and applying our efforts and talents, we can have success and significance, happiness and joy, balance in business and life. With open hearts and willing souls, we can create abundance from adversity and cross the difficult chasms of life with faith and fortitude. It is never easy. But it is possible.
I am eternally grateful to my country for opening these possibilities to me. I have made it my endeavor to repay this great land for the kindnesses it has rendered me and the opportunities it has offered me. So may we all.