Good afternoon. Thank you and welcome to this, the 52nd annual Attorney General's Awards ceremony.
Of all my more ceremonial duties as Attorney General, the Attorney General's Awards celebration stands out for me because it is an occasion for family. When we celebrate the achievements of the Department of Justice, this hall is often filled, as it is today, with the husbands, wives, children, parents and grandparents of the honorees. Please stand and accept our welcome, and our thanks for being here.
Today is an occasion for family because today is a celebration of leadership. As the members of the Justice community have heard me say before, I believe that in everything we do - the good as well as the bad - we teach. And when we show leadership in pursuit of justice, as the men and women we honor today have done, we teach the virtues of sacrifice and leadership. We show those around us that there are more important things than ourselves - things that are worth sacrificing for, or taking a stand in defense of.
Perhaps more than any other nation, America has benefited from the power of leadership to educate. Our founding generation famously pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on a radical idea: that freedom is not the privilege of kings or princes but the birthright of the world. Their leadership is all the more admirable because there was no roadmap for what they set out to achieve in 1776. There was no assurance of success for the new republic; just a probability of failure. That America did not fail, but instead grew stronger and more prosperous, is a testimony to our founding generation and the example of their leadership.
All of the men and women who founded this nation are powerful examples for us, but none more so than Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is enjoying something of a renaissance today, and for good reason. In the scope of his achievements, Franklin was our most remarkable Founding Father and perhaps among the most remarkable individuals to ever have lived.
Benjamin Franklin was a printer, a publisher, an inventor, a scientist, a musician, a humorist, a statesman and a diplomat. He pioneered the sciences of electricity and meteorology. He invented bifocals, the glass harmonica, swim fins, the Franklin stove, the lightening rod, and the odometer.
Franklin co-founded the first public hospital and started the first volunteer fire department. He is the only person to have signed all three of the major founding documents of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. When Thomas Jefferson succeeded Franklin as Ambassador to France, the French Foreign Minister asked him: "Is it you who replace Dr. Franklin?" Jefferson replied: "No one can replace him, sir; I am only his successor."
Franklin's leadership shaped the world we live in today, in ways both large and small. He was a virtuous man, and his sayings on how to live a useful and virtuous life have stood the test of time. Franklin gave us such familiar advice as:
· "God helps them that help themselves."
· " A penny saved is a penny earned."
· And the less well known, "If Jack's in love he's no judge of Jill's beauty."
Franklin proscribed virtues for the common man and virtues for a nation. He fought for and helped win, as he said famously, quote, " a republic -- if we can keep it." The leadership of Ben Franklin, the consummate American, helped create an America that is tolerant, open, compassionate, free, and democratic.
Today we honor the leadership of the men and women of the Department of Justice. Like the founding generation, the members of the Justice community of today have embarked on a challenge for which there is no road map. We are charged with defending freedom from a threat that is unique in history; an enemy that has no state, no conscience, and no intention of surrender.
The Justice Department has not only met this challenge, but has done so with reverence for the law, loyalty to the Constitution, and respect for the people. I could cite a lengthy list of statistics that show what your work has done to deter terrorism, drive down crime and reduce gun violence. But the judgment of history will be much more simple, and more profound. You have protected and preserved American lives and American liberties. Your leadership, too, has left behind a world better than the one you found.
Like the others of the founding generation, Benjamin Franklin reflected on the judgment of history. In fact, while he was still alive, Franklin wrote what he would like to see as his own epitaph. It is classic Franklin in its self-deprecating humor and message of faith. He wrote:
"The body of B. Franklin, Printer (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding) lies here, food for worms; but the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author."
Each of us is a work in progress, as Franklin might say. But the men and women we honor today have distinguished themselves, not just in their deeds, but in the lessons their excellence imparts to others.
For those of us who will learn, they are, in the fullest sense, teachers. Which is to say that they are leaders. Mentors. Patriots. Americans.
Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your service, and congratulations.