Michael Lynch was one of the 343 New York City firefighters who perished at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. To honor his memory, the Lynch family established a foundation to provide scholarships. On March 21, the third anniversary of the date that Michael was found in the ruins, the author addressed his family, friends, and colleagues.
Tonight we gather to pay tribute to the memory of Michael Lynch, as well as to the other men and women who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. None of us will ever forget that terrible day. No American should ever forget that day. No decent person from any nation in the world should ever forget that day.
For the rest of our lives, we will remember where we were that day, what we were doing, how we found out about it, what we saw, how we reacted. We will tell our children and our grandchildren. We will never forget and we will always honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt called Pearl Harbor Day a "day that will live in infamy." 9/11 will be remembered in history as a day of great villainy. It was a day in which evil and demented conspirators rained death on thousands of innocent people. Their evil did not go unanswered. Because of what happened on that day, two nations - Afghanistan and Iraq - have been liberated from the iron grip of cruel tyrants, and 50 million people have been freed. Because of what happened on that day, a wave of change, a hint of freedom, is now sweeping through the Middle East, a region where for many decades, dictators have been allowed to oppress their peoples and to breed terrorism. The world has changed because of that day.
But we are here tonight to recognize that 9/11 was also a day of unparalleled heroism and sacrifice. And everything we know about the man we honor tonight, Michael Lynch, speaks of heroism, sacrifice, and service to his fellow man.
Michael was seventh of 10 children. His parents, Kathleen and Jack Lynch, immigrated from Ireland in the 1950s. They settled in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx.
Michael and his nine brothers and sisters attended St. Francis de Chantal Elementary School. He was a shy boy, and not until fourth grade did he overcome his shyness, thanks to Sister Betty Ann. He was ever after grateful to her and often helped out in her class.
Michael attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, where he played soccer and was captain of the team. He had a special love for science and was close to his science teacher, Father O'Herlihy.
After he graduated from Iona College, Michael went to work as a stockbroker at Morgan Stanley. He worked in the Morgan Stanley offices at the World Trade Center.
But something in Michael was not satisfied to be a stockbroker. Michael wanted to be a firefighter, so he left Morgan Stanley to join the Fire Department of New York. Michael was assigned to Ladder 32, Engine 62 in the Bronx, but on September 11 he was on rotation at Engine 40, Ladder 35 in Manhattan. The company lost 12 of its 13 firefighters on that fateful day.
I live in Brooklyn, three blocks from New York Harbor. At 9 a.m. on September 11, I was having a cup of coffee and reading the morning paper. I felt an immense jolt. It felt and sounded like a sonic boom. A friend called to say, "Turn on the television, something terrible has happened." I did. On the screen, I saw one of the buildings ablaze and immediately ran to the waterfront. As I reached there, I looked up just as the second plane hit the second tower, directly across the harbor. It was a sight that I will never forget. I stood with a small group of people, all of us in a state of shock, all of us weeping at the terrible sight about which we could do nothing.
We watched as helpless bystanders, but on the other side of the river, others soon arrived to bring help and seek survivors. Michael was one of the brave rescue workers who rushed into the buildings as everyone else was rushing out.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Web site of the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation to learn more about Michael. It is impossible to read the letters to Michael from his family without crying. It is impossible to read the letters to Michael's family written by friends and strangers from all across the United States and the world without being deeply moved.
After reading about Michael Lynch, seeing the photographs of his family, and reading the tributes to him, a strange thing happened to me. I felt his spirit. I felt his presence in the memories of his family and friends. I felt as though their letters were reaching him in heaven, and he was smiling. It sounds odd to hear myself say this; I could scarcely believe it, but in some amazing way, the love of his family has evoked Michael's spirit on the Web site. It is there for those who look for it. Their loving thoughts circle the globe and somehow reach into every part of the stratosphere.
The love that they express for him is so pure and so intense that it recreates a sense of this good man. It is often said that a person lives on in the hearts of those who remember him. In this case, the family's love and longing have made some part of Michael Lynch live for everyone who seeks him.
Michael's family wanted not only to remember him, but to create a legacy for Michael that would survive far into the future. They did this when they established the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation, whose primary activity is to award scholarships to worthy young people whose family has been touched by tragedy.
Michael would have liked that. He was a volunteer soccer coach for boys in the Bronx. He would be happy to know that many young people will have an opportunity for a better life because of his family's desire to honor his memory.
The one thing that struck me about Michael was his decision to leave the world of finance and become a firefighter. Michael was in a position to become wealthy if he had remained a stockbroker. But he preferred to follow his dream. He had his college degree, and he could make choices. He made the choice to be what he wanted to be.
That is the wonderful thing about education. It multiplies opportunity. It opens doors that would otherwise be closed. It says to the student: You decide. The choice is yours. Set a goal and pursue it. When most people think about getting a college degree, they think only about career opportunities, and to be sure there are more of them for those with an education.
But there is something else about education that is valuable. Education is an investment in yourself that you can never lose and that no one can ever take away from you. None of us knows what life has in store for us. But one thing we do know is that education allows each of us to make the most of our talents. Education, to the extent that we pursue it and use it, gives us the power to move into new worlds, to know what happened to people who lived hundreds of years ago and to put ourselves in the place of people who live in other civilizations. Education gives us more choices in our lives, more possibilities.
I have been studying education for many years, and I would like to share a few things that I have learned.
Education begins at home. Education begins when parents demonstrate to children by their actions that they are loved and valued. Education happens when parents help their children develop good habits, good character, a sense of responsibility, a readiness to pitch in, an understanding of the behavior that is expected of them.
A good education happens when parents read to their children, share the stories and poems that they love with their children, talk to them at meal times, listen to their problems, help them think about how to act honorably, how to make good choices, and how to meet challenges.
A good education becomes even stronger when families are connected to community institutions that reinforce the values taught at home. In Michael Lynch's case, the family was closely connected to its Catholic faith, and this faith reinforced Michael's strong sense of service to others. Together, the family and the community of faith give children a clear sense of right and wrong, a sense of responsibility for those who are weaker than themselves, and the readiness to turn ideals into actions.
When Michael went to St. Francis de Chantal and Cardinal Spellman High School, it is certain that the values of Michael's family were shared and strengthened by his teachers. Michael's teachers were surely not swept up by the pedagogical fads that have impaired large segments of American public education. I suspect there was no "whole language" or "fuzzy math" at St. Francis. Michael no doubt learned correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. He may have experienced a bit of rote learning, with no harm done to him. No one worried about his self-esteem when they corrected his papers with a red pencil. He learned something far more valuable than self-esteem: he learned self-discipline, and he understood that self-esteem was to be earned, not granted by teachers.
I don't mean to make out that Michael was a scholar. Maybe he was, but I really don't know. Having seen his infectious smile, I rather suspect that he was a cut-up and that he occasionally got into trouble because of his incurable good humor.
But what we all know about Michael Lynch is that he was a good man. He was a man of character who gave up an easy life and chose a life that was fraught with risk. He knew the risks. He didn't have to take them, but he did. He chose a life that had meaning. Something in his family, something in his education, something in his religion, something in his character, whispered in his ear that he wanted and needed to have a life of service and meaning. He followed his dream.
And his family now honors him and his dream by awarding scholarships to deserving young people. Through their accomplishments, Michael Lynch lives. As they engage in their studies and find their own lives of purpose and meaning, Michael's name and memory will continue to be honored. Through their contributions to our society, the families they build, and the good lives that they make, Michael Lynch - Badge 2315 - will never be forgotten.
Ms. Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University.