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Remarks by Attorney General Holder at the 62nd Annual Attorney General's Awards Ceremony


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Jim [Cole], for that kind introduction – and good afternoon, everyone.  It is an honor to share the stage with you today.  And it’s a tremendous pleasure to join so many component heads, United States Attorneys, dedicated Justice Department employees from across the country – and, of course, proud family members, friends, and other special guests – for what has become one of my favorite annual traditions as Attorney General.

With this important event, we come together to honor some of our nation’s most distinguished, dedicated, and deserving public servants.  The hard work and impressive achievements of these 278 award recipients have inspired their colleagues at every level of the U.S. Department of Justice – including me.  Their leadership has been indispensable in defining the past year as one of historic accomplishment in the face of nearly unprecedented challenge.  And that’s why I consider it a great privilege to welcome this year’s awardees – along with their loved ones and supporters – to the 62nd Annual Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony.

It is a particular honor to have so many distinguished guests – including current and former department leaders – with us this afternoon.  Thank you all for making today’s ceremony so special.  I’d also like to thank Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mari Barr Santangelo, as well as her colleagues in the Justice Management Division, for organizing this special observance once again. 

Each year, I am impressed – and deeply humbled – when the nominations for the Attorney General’s Awards come across my desk.  And I have found that there is no better reminder of the breadth of this department’s commitment to justice – and the depths of experience and expertise that so many of our friends and colleagues bring to even the toughest challenges.

This year, we reviewed nominations from more than 20 components describing the outstanding work of over 850 individuals.  These remarkable men and women exemplify the talent and effectiveness of the department’s workforce – and the contributions of our most critical partners.  Even among such an elite group, tonight’s award recipients stood out.  Their extraordinary achievements – and the sacrifices that they, their colleagues, and their families have made on behalf of the American people – have set a high standard for excellence and integrity in public service.  They are, quite simply, the best of the best.  And they will provide lasting examples to the department’s future leaders.

Some of the accomplishments of this year’s award recipients are well known.  They have been the subjects of national and international headlines and widespread public acclaim.  For others, your work takes place out of the limelight – and far from the front pages – although it is no less important or noteworthy.  You don’t seek attention or recognition for what you do.  And you are driven – simply and humbly – by the highest ideals of public service; by an unrelenting drive to excel at all that you do; and by a cause that each of you has made your professional calling: the pursuit of justice to the utmost reach of your abilities. 

We gather today to shine a spotlight on your inspiring service to the American people – service that deserves widespread notice and commendation, even if particular achievements may be sensitive, or even remain classified.  We gather to celebrate the passion – and the progress – that are embodied by these few women and men, setting them apart from their peers and marking them as examples to us all.  And we gather, most of all, simply to say “thank you” – in person – for all that each of you has done, and all that you continue to do, on behalf of this department and in the name of the country you love so dearly. 

These contributions are as diverse as the crowd before me.  And they have led us – over the past year – to make significant and lasting strides on a number of fronts in our ongoing fight for fairness, equality, and justice. 

Among many others, this year’s award recipients include those who have helped lead the fight to extend equal protection, and equal rights, to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters – from enforcing civil rights laws to securing a historic victory before the Supreme Court, the impact of which continues to radiate through courts and communities across the country.  We also recognize the team that raced to resolve thorny legal issues created by the unfortunate and unnecessary shutdown of the federal government last year – a shutdown that imposed real hardships on so many federal employees and their families.  We honor those who helped bring a dangerous, and notoriously elusive, crime boss to justice; who courageously rescued a young hostage; who worked to implement online counterterrorism strategies; who risked their lives to confront violent crime; who fought to root out gang activity, racial discrimination, and corporate conspiracies; who strove to combat fraud and secure precious taxpayer resources;  and who instituted the programs, and provided the support, necessary to drive our broader efforts to make this nation stronger, more secure and more fair – from coast to coast.

Many of you have devoted much, if not all, of your careers to the service of this great department, and the American people who depend on us every single day.  In so doing, you have become the latest links in a proud tradition of public service that dates back to the earliest days of our republic.  You have dedicated yourselves to a cause, and an effort, much larger than any one person.  And you deserve tremendous credit not only for your abilities and your achievements, but for your willingness to make the personal sacrifices that are inherent in our chosen profession. 

I am particularly mindful of these sacrifices today – at what will be my last Attorney General’s Awards Ceremony – as I think back on the remarkable men and women I have known, and learned from, and been proud to call my colleagues over the last four decades.  I am mindful, this afternoon, of the heroes who are missing from this crowd – the brave law enforcement officials who have given what President Abraham Lincoln once called their “last full measure of devotion,” that others might live safe and free.  I am mindful of the extraordinary people – from Administrations of both parties – who have presided over these awards presentations in decades past – leaders like Robert F. Kennedy, Elliot Richardson, Janet Reno and so many others.  And I am mindful, most of all, of the many career attorneys, administrators and support staff members whom I have been fortunate to count as mentors and friends since the day I began my legal career – in 1976 – as a newly-minted law school graduate in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. 

Some of them are here today.  Others have moved on, or passed on, over the years.  But it’s because of them – and because of you – that this institution is, and always will be, such a remarkable place to work.  It’s because of you that this department has carried a sacred public trust – through moments of conflict and unrest; in times of war and peace – for decade after decade.  And it’s because of you that leading this department as Attorney General – and serving in the administration of a president I truly admire – has been the single greatest honor of my professional life.

I firmly believe that, thanks to you and your colleagues, the good work that we have set in motion over the past six years will far outlast my tenure at the department, the current administration – and even the lifetimes of those gathered here today.  I am confident, thanks to our awardees, that these efforts will endure – and our pursuit of justice will go on – no matter where our individual paths may take us.  And I want you to know that I will always be proud – and incredibly grateful – to count you as colleagues, as partners and as friends.

I am eager to see where your efforts will lead us – and all that we will accomplish together – in the months and years ahead.  I thank you all, once again, for your service.  I congratulate you on the well-deserved recognitions we are about to bestow.  And I urge you to keep up the great work.

Updated August 18, 2015