President Barack Obama paid tribute on Wednesday to the victims and survivors of a mass shooting in Arizona which killed 6 and injured 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whom the President said opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.
The President told the nation and those gathered at the University of Arizona's McKale Center, that despite the tragedy, there was reason for hope, as he gave details about each victims personal lives, focusing on their admirable qualities during the shooting and throughout their lives.
Among the victims were Federal judge John roll, elderly couple George and Dorothy Morris; New Jersey native and grandmother Phyllis Schneck; retired construction worker Dorwan Stoddard who dove on top of his wife Mavy to save her life during the shooting; Giffords outreach director Gabe Zimmerman; and nine-year old Christina Taylor.
There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight, he said.
The President also touched on the direction of the national conversation since the shootings and how it included not only the killings, but merits of gun safety laws and adequacy of the country's mental health systems.
He said the debate was an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
But amid a polarized populace and an eagerness to blame others, he said [i]t's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
[L]et us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together, he said.
In the middle of the speech, Obama deviated from his prepared remarks to recognize Gifford's husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who was present.
The President said Kelly allowed him to reveal that a few minutes after the President visited Gifford - who was shot point blank in the back of the head by the shooter - opened her eyes for the first time since the incident a few minutes after the President had moved to another room after visiting her.
Gabby opened her eyes, the President said. She knows we're here, and she knows we love her, and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.
The President said the victims' loss 'should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents.
And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud, he said.
The president ended the speech returning to Christina Taylor, who was born on September 11, 2001 and whom the President said was pictured in a book called Faces of Hope.
She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model, he said. 'She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all to often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations, he said of the girl, who was beginning to serve, taking up the role of student council member at her school.
I want our democracy 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, he said.
If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.