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Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarks at Portrait Unveiling Commemorating Tenure at the Justice Department


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery 

Portrait of Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.I came to this department as an unformed twenty- five year old graduate from law school. 

I will leave grayer and wiser but still struck by the wonder of all that this great organization and its people have exposed me to.  I have made friends during my time here, and lost some of them to the vagaries of life, but each has left an indelible mark on who I am and who I still aspire to be. 

The beauty of this department is that, at its best, it is, like our country, at its best, always growing, always changing, always being vigilant in the defense of those values that have distinguished this nation and made it truly exceptional.  This quality is derived from the ideals that serve as the foundation for all that we love about America.

Great as it is, our nation is not yet perfect.  The fact that we can acknowledge this is what truly distinguishes us as a people. 

We have always examined ourselves and determined that which needs to be improved, that which needs to be maintained and that to which we should aspire.  This is the essence of, and beauty of, the United States of America.  Unlike other countries complacent in an older, sclerotic system, we are still, young, dynamic and unafraid to question ourselves.  This spirit led initially to revolution and then to the removal of the sin of slavery, the right for women to vote, a great civil rights movement that truly transformed our nation and now a recognition of the rights of all Americans regardless of their sexual orientation. 

Make no mistake.  We still have unfinished business and work to do.  Reform of our criminal justice system must continue.  The historic wrongs visited upon our native people must be righted.  The widening gap in income inequality must be reversed.  In the defense of our nation we must always adhere to the values that define us.  And, at all costs, the right to vote must be protected. 

That list may seem daunting, but if we are true to who we are as Americans, no problem is too big, no issue insurmountable.

Beware those who would take us back to a past that has really never existed or that was imbued with a forgotten inequity. 

Our destiny as Americans is always ahead of us.  Our gaze is always focused on the horizon.  Those who have loved this nation most have dared greatly and sought to change the status quo for the better: the Founding Fathers who, never let it be forgotten, chose revolution rather than accept an unjust status quo, Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Garvey, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, John Lewis and Dr. King, JFK and LBJ, Vivian Malone, Harvey Milk — Barack Obama. 

We should not fear change: it is part of who we are as Americans; it is what distinguishes us, makes us unique.

I leave this place proud of what we have accomplished over the last six years and grateful for all that DOJ has given me these past thirty nine years. This has been my home - and you will always be my family.

I thank the parents who raised me and the West Indian sensibility that they instilled in me, the New York City public school system that educated me, Columbia University that nurtured and tolerated me, the woman who has loved me so long, the kids who have been the joy and, I hope they really understand, the true pride of my life, a brother who has been more a dear friend than a sibling, the guys at the Colum and the crew from 24th Avenue and 101st Street.  And more recently, a President and colleagues in this Administration who stuck by me when I didn't always make it the easiest thing to do. 

And I am grateful to this great nation who gave a black kid from East Elmhurst, Queens, New York City more support and opportunities than any individual could have hoped for.  Thank you America. 

To the wonderful, dedicated, accomplished men and women of this great Department, I realize that I have asked for so much from each of you over the last six years.  But let me make one final request: Keep going.  Keep fighting.  Keep believing in your ability to improve our country and our world.

And know this: no Attorney General, no AG, has ever loved this institution or you more.  Not one. 

I lack the words to fully convey what this place and all of you mean to me.  So let me end this way and paraphrase Duke Ellington: I will miss you as I have loved you all: madly.  I love you madly.   

Thank you and good bye.

Updated August 18, 2015