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We Are One MIT, One Society, As We Pay Tribute To Officer Sean

"Today, and in the days ahead, we will come together to give new meaning to President Rafael Reif’s call to be ‘One MIT.’ The many comments of students who had gotten to know Officer Sean Collier as a friend, peer, and respected professional are heart-warming and a tribute to him and to our community-of-one culture. By celebrating that as we grieve for Sean, his family, and for MIT we might just demonstrate the spirit of solidarity so badly needed in other parts of our society."

MIT is an institution usually recognized for its collective intelligence — the brain-power of the community. But on Wednesday, as the world watched, the people of MIT demonstrated that our hearts and souls are just as formidable.

I wrote the note above to my MIT students and colleagues on Saturday as I watched the enormous and spontaneous outpouring of support for each other, for our fallen officer and his family, and for the MIT Police Force.

The idea that we are "One MIT" was a major theme in President Reif’s inaugural address in May 2012 and has been a defining focus of his leadership since taking office. By this, he means MIT is not just one faculty across five schools, but one community of students, staff, and alumni, who value each other for their contributions and dedication to making this a world-class Institute.

This week I asked my students what they did when they got the campus alert about the shooting. Those living close to the crime scene described how they gathered together in the hallways outside their dorm rooms to support each other, monitor police scanners and track the police chase as the parade of cruisers sped by on their way to the shootout in Watertown.

As the night wore on, others remarked how they helped staff, colleagues, and housemasters organize discussions and bring in food. Complying with the “shelter in place” order on Friday, and in the days since, the support continued.

MIT Police Officer Sean Collier was 26-years-old. (AP)
MIT Police Officer Sean Collier was 26-years-old. (AP)

Moving personal tributes to Officer Collier also began popping up on the web and on Twitter. His friends, colleagues and acquaintances shared stories about his efforts to get to know students by hiking with them in Newfoundland or dancing with them at campus events.

On Wednesday, thousands of police officers from around the country, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Deval Patrick, and many other dignitaries, joined the MIT community to honor the life, work, and sacrifice of Officer Collier. All classes were canceled — a very rare action reserved for grave emergencies or the most intense Nor’easters that come our way.

Perhaps the most moving part of the ceremony came when MIT students, staff, and faculty rose to their feet in unison to give a standing ovation to the visiting police officers.

MIT is an institution usually recognized for its collective intelligence — the brain-power of the community. But on Wednesday, as the world watched, the people of MIT demonstrated that our hearts and souls are just as formidable.

Crises like these are “teachable moments” and in this case I believe the lesson applies beyond the boundaries of this campus. We need to come together not just in sorrow and crisis, but in our everyday lives to build a more just, civil, and caring society.

Officers from numerous police agencies stand during Officer Collier's memorial service on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (AP)
Officers from numerous police agencies stand during Officer Collier's memorial service on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (AP)

This program aired on April 25, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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