President Barack Obama gave a beautiful and heartwarming speech at the University of Arizona Wednesday night that honoured, personalized and celebrated the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. He introduced to the world the victims who, for the most part, have so far gone nameless, like New Jersey native Phyllis Schneck, who retired to Tucson to beat the snow, and would sew aprons with logos of the Jets or Giants to give to the church where she volunteered; like Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard, who grew up in Tucson together about 70 years ago, moved apart and started their own respective families and, after each becoming widowed, came together to “be boyfriend and girlfriend again,” as one of Mavy’s daughters put it.
Obama also reiterated — in a way that just felt genuine and sincere, unlike so much glossy rhetoric — the need to be civil following situations like this, the need to “to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.
We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations.
They believed — they believed, and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here –- they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.
And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed.
Imagine — imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council. She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
This speech could not have been any better.
Read a full transcript of President Obama’s remarks here.