President Obama Speaks at Newtown High School
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President Obama Speaks at Newtown High School

The President:
Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first
responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests
— Scripture tells us: “…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting
away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary
troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that
far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what
is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly
tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God,
an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” We gather here in memory of
twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a
school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full
of good and decent people that could be any town in America. Here in Newtown, I come to
offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere
words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they
heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you
to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too
has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours,
we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever
measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide;
whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you
to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown — you are not alone. As these difficult days have
unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength
and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived
in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s
staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary
Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino
and Anne Marie Murphy — they responded as we all hope we
might respond in such terrifying circumstances — with
courage and with love, giving their lives to protect
the children in their care. We know that there were other
teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms,
and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by
saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”;
“show me your smile.” And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced
to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety,
and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock
and trauma because they had a job to do, and others
needed them more. And then there were the scenes
of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other,
dutifully following instructions in the way that young children
sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up
by saying, “I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.” (laughter) As a community, you’ve
inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable
violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve
looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another,
and you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown
will be remembered. And with time, and God’s grace,
that love will see you through. But we, as a nation, we are
left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy
and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart
outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this
most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is
suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is
nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with
that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they
are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t
always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and
setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most
important job is to give them what they need to become
self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face
the world without fear. And we know we can’t
do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a
certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love
these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our
children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only
do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help
of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come
to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child
because we’re counting on everybody else to help look
after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re
all our children. This is our first task —
caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right,
we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society,
we will be judged. And by that measure, can
we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting
our obligations? Can we honestly say that
we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of
them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation,
that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are
loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly
doing enough to give all the children of this country the
chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness
and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this
the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves,
the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been President, this
is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a
grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve
hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled
the families of victims. And in between, there have been
an endless series of deadly shootings across the country,
almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small
towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much
of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong
place at the wrong time. We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes
of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of
laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent
every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an
excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do
better than this. If there is even one step we can
take to save another child, or another parent, or another town,
from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak
Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to
Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an
obligation to try. In the coming weeks, I will use
whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens —
from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents
and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more
tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events
like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say
that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that
the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such
violence visited on our children year after year after
year is somehow the price of our freedom? All the world’s religions — so
many of them represented here today — start with a simple
question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on
this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have
our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after
some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame, or just
simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short
of what we had hoped. We know that no matter how good
our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we
will experience hardships. And even when we’re trying to do
the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent
groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern
God’s heavenly plans. There’s only one thing we can
be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our
children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s
embrace — that is true. The memories we have of them,
the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their
eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love
that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger
— we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right
when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them
well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong
when we do that. That’s what we can be sure of. And that’s what you, the people
of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive
us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit
to keep us on this Earth. “Let the little children come
to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them — for to such
belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison. God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let
us find the strength to carry on, and make our country
worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep
those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still
have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over
this community, and the United States of America.

About James Carlton

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