Good evening. Thank you for that introduction, John, and thank you all for inviting me to join you at this dinner.
Those of you who have watched the Oscars know that music starts up if a speaker goes on too long. Looking at the program, I noticed that the Ballou High School marching band will be performing shortly. I don’t know if that was intended as a warning, but just in case the band decides to treat me like an Oscar winner who’s taken too much time, I'll be brief.
I can be brief, because my message to all of you tonight is simple, and that is: congratulations on your accomplishments, and thank you for your commitment to reducing violence in our communities.
One of the top priorities of the Department of Justice is the struggle against violent crime, and we understand that our efforts must include a strong element of prevention in addition to enforcement of our nation's laws.
Those of us who work in law enforcement, whether at the federal, state, or local level, cannot take on this struggle alone. We need all the help we can get, and that's why we support innovative programs like the National Campaign to Stop Violence and the Do the Write Thing Challenge. And it is why I am proud to honor the students here tonight, because your involvement and your commitment to reducing violence are indispensable to success.
Our society offers a lot of opportunities to our young people, but also a lot of temptations and dangers. For too many of our nation's citizens, violence and the damage it does to our communities are painful features of daily life. Too many neighborhoods have witnessed the end of too many young lives. Too much potential is being wasted in prison cells.
But we are not helpless in our fight against violence. We have the strength of families and schools, churches and community groups, governments and non-profit organizations. Programs like this one recognize that reducing violence in our society requires that we enlist everyone in the struggle.
I grew up in the Bronx, and I’ve seen some of the challenges young people can face. And through my previous experiences working as a federal prosecutor and as a federal judge, and through my job now as Attorney General, I have seen people who have made the wrong choices, and the damage they have done to their communities and to those who love them.
But I also see a lot of reasons to be hopeful, and I'm encouraged by the depth of the commitment and the contributions made by so many people to efforts like the Do the Write Thing Challenge. And I'm encouraged by the young people who have been a part of this program—the 120,000 students around the country, and especially the finalists here tonight. I want to congratulate all of you again for your success and for the strength you have shown in being a part of this cause.
Any time we have a young person who picks up a pen instead of a weapon, who throws a baseball instead of a punch, who calls out a greeting instead of an insult, we make progress. My job, and the job of all my colleagues in law enforcement, gets easier and America’s neighborhoods become better places to live with every person who chooses to become a part of the solution, instead of a part of the problem of violence.
So as I said before, I just want to thank you for all the great work you have done. To the students here tonight, I hope this dinner and the events of this National Recognition Week give you some indication of how proud we are of what you have accomplished, and how much hope we have for you in the future. Indeed, you are our future.
To the parents, teachers, and community leaders who have supported the student finalists, I thank you also for your hard work. The investments you have made in the young people here tonight—investments of your time, your energy, and your enthusiasm—have paid, and will continue to pay, rich dividends far into the future.
Thank you all again for inviting me to be a part of this celebration. I hope that you enjoy the rest of your time here, and that you enjoy the entertainment tonight. Thank you very much.