The whole terrible scene only lasted for about five minutes – from the first shot fired at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, until the last.

A makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, which took 26 lives. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, File

In just those brief, few moments, 26 lives were ended, children mostly, and the adults who gave their lives trying to protect them.

That December day a decade ago forever changed the families who suffered loss, the town and the state of Connecticut. And it changed me.

It did not, tragically, change our country, and today we awake to a new school shooting, this time in Texas, which comes on the heels of a racist attack against a Black neighborhood in Buffalo and a church shooting in California.

At least 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde were murdered by an 18-year-old man whose name I will not repeat. Their lives taken just as they were beginning.

A grocery store attack and 10 lives taken by a gunman driven by racism.


And five people shot during worship at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California.

In just the last 10 days, we’ve been bound together in these three moments, our hearts heavy from the news of horrific, senseless shootings.

Most often, it is our differences that are highlighted. Texas, California, Connecticut, New York, Maine – we talk about how our communities and our politics are different. Red and blue America, divided and at odds.

But the truth is much more complex. For our differences, these communities are just like ours. Children and teachers go to school, churchgoers attend service, neighbors and friends shop for groceries.

We mourn together in quiet shock and numbness, asking ourselves how many more times we must bear such horror, our sense of security shattered.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I grieved with the families of the victims of the worst school shooting in U.S. history. The sense of grief and shock never goes away, and I am heartsick that more families just like ours are waking each morning – if they’ve slept at all – without their children or loved ones. It never gets easier.


Lives ended for no other reason than shopping at the neighborhood grocery store, worshipping or going to school – we cannot accept a world in which such everyday activities can lead to such tragedy.

All of these incidents so close together are a reminder of how far we need to evolve as a society. I know we all share a common purpose of wanting to do something to finally stop the carnage – to not just grieve, but to find a common resolve in our collective humanity that defeats once and for all the hatred fueled by racism, anger and darkness so evident in these otherwise senseless acts.

In a message to the University of Maine System community two years ago that marked the senseless death of George Floyd, I said that equal and inclusive access to public education is a great equalizer.

By itself, of course, education cannot stop such senseless gun violence. But it can show us how to listen to different viewpoints than our own, which creates space for respectful dialogue. It can show us how to think critically about actions we might take as a society to reduce the likelihood that more families in the days and years to come will bear such unbearable grief.

Our universities – all of our schools – work daily toward these goals, and we have no higher purpose together in this difficult moment.

Texas, California and New York are not so far away; not so different. And in a time of real division, we should take a moment to remember the things that make us all the same: love for our children, concern for our neighbors, our capacity to learn and our hope for a better tomorrow.

Today, we mourn, and I know together we hold the families who are suffering in our hearts. Tomorrow, let’s keep on with the great equalizing task of education and turn our collective grief to common resolve to make our society and the world better.

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