CHOIR: (SINGING) Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hail at the twilight's last gleaming. Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming. And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. And the home of the brave.
FRANK RHODES: I want to welcome you to this gathering. It's been said that Cornell is lines, lines, lines with a waiting list for each one of them. And you've survived the lines that led to your getting tickets, you've survived the lines to get in the building, and we're delighted to see so many. I want to welcome Cornell's students, faculty, and staff. I want to welcome our neighbors in this Ithaca and Tompkins County area.
I want to especially to welcome the Cornell Board of Trustees on the Cornell Council, who are here in force for their annual meeting. Amongst those who are here, we have several representatives of local law enforcement agencies. And I want, in welcoming them, to introduce Thomas Morony, who is the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, and George [INAUDIBLE], who is District Attorney for Tompkins County. Would you stand up so that in welcoming you, we can welcome all our guests [INAUDIBLE]?
We're also fortunate to have with us tonight our own congressman, Congressman Maurice Hinchey.
Congressman Hinchey represents the 26th congressional district, which if it is not as deep as some, is wider than most. It extends all the way from the western margin of Ithaca township to the other side of the Hudson to Beacon. Congressman Hinchey is a longstanding friend of Cornell. During the time that he served in the State Assembly in Albany, he chaired the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee.
And since he went to Washington two years ago, he has taken a special interest in financial aid for students from federal sources and in federal support for research in science and engineering. Throughout two different careers, he has been a champion of higher education and of this university. Please help me to welcome Congressman Maurice Hinchey.
MAURICE HINCHEY: Well thank you. Thank you very much. I very much appreciate your warm welcome. It is a great honor and privilege for me, of course, to represent in the House of Representatives the most prestigious and preeminent university in America, Cornell.
And particularly so to be here with you this afternoon when you welcome back one of your most successful and outstanding alumni, one of the great leaders in our country. Probably one of the most, I should say, I've got to caution myself now, one of the most preeminent women in American government today.
An outstanding person who is leading one of the most important fights currently in America, the fight to secure our neighborhoods, to save lives and property and to make all of us safer and more secure as we go about our lives. She is, in every sense, an outstanding graduate of this institution and an outstanding American. And I'm very delighted to be with you here today to listen to President Rhodes introduce her in a few moments and to be with you as you welcome her. It's always a pleasure for me to be with you. Thank you very much.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Congressman Hinchey. Janet Reno was born in rural Dade County, Florida and spent a childhood that, to this observer at least, seems idyllic. The daughter of a family of two very literate parents who were sufficiently versatile, not only to be reporters, but also to create their own log home from cypresses cut down from the edge of the Everglades.
She grew up with a wonderful combination, keeping a zoo in her spare time that consisted of various animals, cows and pigs, a macaw parrot, a boa constrictor, and a skunk fully scented. But also reading poetry and listening to Beethoven at the same time. And from that background, she had the immense good judgment to select Cornell.
And we and the nation are richer for that choice. Janet Reno is a member of the class of 1960. She came to Cornell as a pre-med student, and she took a degree majoring in chemistry. She worked while she was in college. She also found time to play a very full role in the life of the campus. She was the president of the Women's Student Government Association, for example.
She graduated from Cornell and medicine gave way to law. And she went to the Harvard Law School, where she graduated as one of 16 women in her class. She returned to Dade County and worked in private practice as a lawyer and also as Staff Director for the Florida House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. And in that role, she redesigned and restructured the juvenile court system.
From that position, she was elected on five successive occasions as the State Attorney to Dade County. A remarkable record, not only because of the overwhelming majorities of each of those elections, but also because she ran as a pro-life liberal Democrat in a staunchly Republican area. Her record in that role was spectacular. And it's that record, of course, which attracted President Clinton's attention.
She became a staunch advocate of the interests of children, pursuing delinquent fathers with attorneys for the first time to secure payment from them, prosecuting with vigor cases of child abuse, and becoming a champion for the interests of children in everything from health care to pre-K education.
She also began a record that still continues as a most enlightened prosecutor in dealing with the root sources of crime itself, realizing that it's not only effective policing and law enforcement, but it's the attack on the basic causes of crime, homelessness and poverty and teenage pregnancy, that have to be prevented if the world and the nation are to be made safer for all its members.
It was in that capacity that I first had the privilege of meeting her, when just over two years ago, she took part for an evening in a Cornell dinner in Miami. And I had the pleasure of hearing firsthand of the remarkable record that she'd established there.
But her record is no less spectacular since moving to this new appointment in Washington. The leadership that she has given is extraordinary. She has blazed a trail, literally, for somebody of total unpretentiousness in a city known for its pretension. Telling her staff members, for example, not to refer to her as General, the title by which most of her predecessors were known. And when they asked how they should refer to her, suggesting they should use anything from Janet to "hey you."
She's been known for her impeccable honesty, refusing, for example, to take discounts on things as different as pizzas and rental cars. And she's been known also for a level of integrity and personal courage, which have won not only bipartisan, but also national admiration. And never more deservedly than in shouldering responsibility for the events in Waco, Texas. She has been solidly behind the passage and the implementation of the crime bill and in the follow up of that passage.
And we're delighted that in that activity, she still found time for Cornell's things, serving, for example, as one of the founding members of the President's Council of Cornell Women, taking time out just this spring to spend much of an evening with us in Washington at the kickoff of the Washington Cornell Campaign. And now, coming back to campus for the first time in many years, in fact, but certainly for the first time since her appointment as Attorney General. Please help me in reinforcing the welcome you've already given to Attorney General Janet Reno.
JANET RENO: Thank you so very much, President Rhodes, Congressman. Thank you for your welcome.
AUDIENCE: What about Waco, Janet? Waco, Waco, Waco!
JANET RENO: Thank you. One, it is so exciting now to come back to a community.
To the spirit of Cornell.
One of the joys of Cornell when I was here in 1956.
One of the joys of Cornell when I was here in 1956 is that people spoke their mind, and it is refreshing to see that they continue to do so.
The excitement I felt coming to this community in 1956, now 38 years ago, on an early morning bus all the way from Miami introduced me to one of the great adventures of my life. I feel the same excitement today to come back after 34 years, to come back to a community whose people, whose ideas, whose scenes have been stamped on my heart, my soul, and my mind forever. To come back to a place where faculty, students, and so many people I met have had a profound influence on everything that I have done. To the members of the faculty who may be here, I would suggest to you.
AUDIENCE: You said you took responsibility for it. They're still dead!
JANET RENO: One of the most exciting points of coming to this great university was to be filled with the ideas of people who engaged in respectful discussion, who taught with beauty and with a sense of the pleasure of ideas or the sense of pleasure of discussion and dissent, who could argue and discuss and discuss theoretical ideas, who can discuss with passion, but with respect marvelous ideas. Faculty members, thank you.
Robert Plane made freshman chemistry so magical for me that I majored in it. He made the sciences of this world come alive for me. Stuart Brown made ideas and philosophy and ethics a reality, a wonderful, real human concept. Walter Burns is the person that probably made me persuade my mother that I really should go to law school, because he made constitutional law a living, breathing subject for me. To the faculty members here, you have touched so many of us and I am always and forever indebted to you.
To the students who are here, it was so exciting to come to a great university with such extraordinary diversity, with so many people studying so many different subjects. And those students then have made such a difference in my life. There are so many of them that will be friends until I die. There are people that I continue to hear from. They have been part and parcel of me. And I just urge you to reach out and remember that the people you're with, you will travel with all the days of your life.
A little over one and a half years ago, I suddenly found myself in Washington. It was sudden and it was unexpected. And I have had an opportunity to consider my life, particularly in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in confirmation, and how I got here. Clearly Cornell deserves much of the credit.
But also, my experience in the community where I was born, where I grew up, where I've served as a prosecutor for 15 years, gave me a sense of how important the community is in this nation. Whether it be a large, urban area or a small town like Ithaca. To suddenly come to Washington and find yourself faced with international issues and international transactions that stagger the mind, you understand how global this world has become and you understand that crime, environmental impact, immigration, the economy are all global and international issues now and we cannot live just within the confines of our nation and succeed.
With this shrinking globe, with a burst in technology, with this sense of community, I have now had the opportunity to visit so many different places in America. I've heard people, particularly in the press corps, sometimes on talk shows, talk with pessimism about America. I've heard some people say that they are overwhelmed, that they do not know what to do, how to cope with crime, what to do about the great issues of our day. They say that things have just gotten too big. They've talked about crime in those terms.
But I suggest to you from my experience with the American people in this last year and a half of watching police officers and 15-year-olds and elderly people all coming together in their communities, having a faith and a belief that they can get things done, that this is one of the most exciting times in our history. Never before have we had this occasion of probably the greatest prosperity in the history of the world, so that we know what we can do if we do it right and work hard.
But we have in the shadow poverty, sometimes increasing, which is a reminder of what will happen if we don't act, if we stand on the sidelines, if we remain indifferent. We have, compared to my growing up, unparalleled peace, showing what we can do if we work through diplomatic channels, if we work together, if we communicate throughout the world. But we have in the shadows, often times flaring up before our eyes, horrible examples of human savagery that are examples of what will happen if people stand idly by, if they don't become involved, if they don't care.
Compared to my time at Cornell, when lunch counters were still segregated and where Cornellians were beginning to take action to see that it ended, they were on the front lines. Compared to then, we have unparalleled civil and human rights, both in this nation and around the world. But we still see bigotry and hate as examples of what will happen if we don't stand up to be counted and to make a difference. We have opportunity for our young people, and yet we have so many who are in despair. And we have seen what we can do when we give to fragile people the opportunity to help themselves and to be self-sufficient.
One of the most breathtaking examples of America in action has been the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that gives to 49 million Americans with disabilities an opportunity to walk through doors they never walked through before, to hear, to see, to learn, and most of all, to participate. Because we believed in people and the capacity of people to be their best if only given half a chance. But in the shadows, our children, not children in some far off country, but children in this nation who are living in poverty, who are at risk, who will never develop to their fullest potential, examples of what can happen when we stand by, when we will not take action.
So we have the opportunity. We know what we can do. We know where we can go. Towards the sunlit uplands or we can remain and start walking towards the shadows. That's why this time is so exciting. That is why this time is such an exciting time to either be an attorney general or a student at Cornell to start making a difference, to start making things come into perspective so that we can change this world. We know what's possible if only we try.
Now, some people have said that there is an anxious generation. I don't sense in the students of America, I don't sense in progressive, thoughtful police officers in America, I don't sense and citizens who join in community efforts and America anxiousness. I sense that there is a sense of challenge and a sense that we can make a difference if we come together.
What are our tools? Our tools are people and knowledge. Not programs, not big businesses, but people, the heart and core of America. And the knowledge that universities such as this have helped them gain in probably a century of the greatest burst of knowledge in all of human history. We now have to go back to our roots, look at people, look at their knowledge, and figure out how we make this a better world.
Where do we begin? We begin in great, wonderful universities such as this. And this university is perhaps the classic example of an institution that brings different disciplines, different professions, different subjects of study together and probably the greatest diversity of any institution of its kind in this country.
But we've got to break down the barriers between the legal profession, between doctors, and between child development experts so that all these disciplines come together and start looking at human life as a whole and not one fragmented piece. Until doctors and lawyers and child development experts and police officers start talking together, we don't begin to solve the problems.
Government has to do it. I come to Washington and I find the Department of Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, HUD, and Justice that should be working together as a cohesive whole, working together to serve as a partner with state and local communities around this country.
And now it's beginning to happen. Because we realize that we will not solve the criminal justice problems of this nation unless we start early. And delinquency prevention efforts have to be tied into child development efforts, if we are to make a difference. Great institutions such as Cornell can do so much to bring this wonderful knowledge together so that people of different disciplines work together as one.
There are, as part of this effort, some old fashioned ideas that must be blended into the knowledge. First of all, if we are to be successful, we must trust in people. Not just some of the people. Not just college graduates. But all of the people. All of the diverse and wonderful people of this nation.
Trust in that 15-year-old delinquent who I met in a detention facility in Omaha, Nebraska and asked him, what would you do to have prevented the problem in the first place? And listen to the wisdom with which he told me, give me something to do in the afternoons, something positive that can make a difference in my life. Give me some adult to talk to who understands how hard it is to grow up in America today. Give me somebody who can give me structure and direction. Trust in all the people and they can make such a difference.
Communicate with people. Now, I must tell you, when I was here, professors sometimes communicated with what I thought were words that were too big. One of the reasons I like Frank Rhodes is that he makes the English language come across so pure and clear and wonderfully understood. And it is time that all of us take our education and start talking in small, old words that everybody understands.
Bob Plane explained chemistry to me in ways that I could understand that made it seem magical and wonderful. George Healey read Keats to me and made it a magic language. There are people that talk English different. Their language is wonderful too. But if we talk together, if we communicate together, we can bring people together with the knowledge that institutions like this can generate and do so much to solve the problem.
A third requirement of this effort is that we've got to be in it for the long haul. Too often in America in these last 30 years, we wanted something to happen overnight. We wanted the crime problem to go away overnight. We wanted the economy to be turned around overnight. We want it overnight.
Well, anybody that's raised families, that's raised children, knows that things don't happen overnight. You've got to be in it for the long haul. You're going to fail sometimes and you've got to pick yourself up and move ahead and continue your efforts. Whether you are a Cornell Council member who is involved in a great community undertaking and watch your bond issue fail, you get up the next morning and you go back to your community and you keep trying. If you're a physicist who has had one road cut off by findings that don't support your original theory, you keep trying. You never give up.
In 1980, I faced a riot in Dade County that people blamed on me because we lost the case. People said, you've got to resign to quell the rioting. I said, I can't. That would be to contribute to anarchy. I've got to keep trying. I've got to keep moving ahead. And besides, if people want to get rid of me, I've got to run for office in a month.
Nobody ran against me and my mother said it was because nobody wanted the job.
But I kept going back to the community. And at first they hollered at me, and then they just fussed at me, and then they started hugging me. And it is time we all understand that you can fail, but you pick yourself up and you continue to move along.
One of the most important undertakings of this great university, of what we do in our communities, is to learn from history. I will always remember a statement in an American history course here. The owl of Minerva flies only at midnight. We're not at midnight yet.
We've got an awful lot of learning to do about recent history, about past history. But I'm amazed at the number of people today who don't know what Dunkirk was, who don't know what Chamberlain did, who don't know what undertakings were that could have a real impact on what we do today. We have so much to learn from history.
I have referred to community. And I become even more dedicated to the proposition that community is at the heart of government's efforts to solve their problems. But that hasn't been so in these last years. Why not?
I think with the Depression, people began to turn their focus towards Washington, thinking that Washington would solve their problems. With World War II, people became even more confirmed that Washington was the source of power. With the civil rights efforts of the '50s and '60s, people turned to Washington for justice. In the '70s, they turned to Washington for money.
In the '80s they turned to Washington, and nothing happened because Washington was turning the programs over the states without the dollars. The states turned it over to the cities without the dollars. And the cities faced with the problems of America and with their backs up against the wall started bringing people together, reaching through the marvelous, magnificent diversity of this nation to bring the average citizen together with the police officer, with the schoolteacher, to begin the efforts to rebuild community.
And community is so important. You have no idea what it's like to wake up after Hurricane Andrew has lambasted the place that you've loved, to walk out and see a world in desolation, to see people walking through the neighborhood that they can barely recognize as their own, stunned.
And then watch community come together. Watch people begin to build from this disaster with trust, with regard, with caring. That's what we have got to be about in America. That's what institutions like this have got to promote, in terms of not only teaching, but teaching us how to use our knowledge to reach out to rebuild communities.
And then we've got to take these ideas. We've got to take this optimism and we've got to start investing in people. For all of my lifetime in this nation, we invested in smokestacks. We invested in capital facilities. We invested in automation. And we haven't invested in people.
Or if we have, we have only waited to invest after the crisis occurs. We've waited for the operation to take place when we could have prevented it through preventative medical care. We've waited to build the prison when we could have prevented the crime through early intervention. We have waited to solve economic problems when we could have done so much through better education, through better skills training, through better development of an infrastructure that could support the great technological gains that we have undertaken.
We can make a difference if we invest in people, if we take the knowledge of this institution and others and put it to work up front. Not in crisis, but in giving people the chance to be self-sufficient.
And where do we begin? The first thing we do is focus on parenting and make sure that our children in America are old enough, wise enough, and financially able enough to take care of their children. If this nation can send a man to the moon, certainly it can do something to see that babies stop having babies and that parents have the skills necessary to raise their children.
But we've got to do far more than that. Because it may not be the single 14-year-old who is the one at issue. It may be that doctor, those two doctors who are spending too much time away from their children and not focusing on them. We can do so much through flex time, through telecommuting. Let us take the technology that we have and adapt it to our lifestyles so that we can spend quality time with our children.
Raising children is the single most difficult thing in the world to do. It takes hard work, love, intelligence, and an awful lot of luck, and it takes time. If we can create this great institution, then we can surely transform the knowledge of this institution into ways that give us a chance to become an attorney general, to be a doctor, to be a lawyer, but at the same time to spend quality time with our family.
Let us make sure that every child in America, that every American has proper preventative medical care. We do so much.
Look at what we have done with the burst of medical knowledge of this last century. I talk to old, old doctors who were practicing 30 and 40 and 50 years ago and they shake their heads, amazed. And yet there are children in this nation, too many children, that are not current in their immunizations. There are children, too many children, who are not receiving preventative medical care that would help them have a strong and healthy future.
Something is wrong with a nation that says to a 70-year-old person, you can have an operation that extends your life expectancy by three years, and then we turn with the child of a working poor person who makes too much money to be eligible for Medicaid, but doesn't have health care benefits, and say, sorry, your child can't get preventative medical care. That doesn't make sense.
The next issue is probably the most important, but I am preaching to the choir, because this institution, more so than any other in the country, has been responsible for focusing on child development as one of the critical issues of this world. This institution, more than any other, has helped me and others understand that 0 to three is probably the most formative time in a person's life. The child learns the concept of reward and punishment and develops a conscience.
50% Of all learned human response is learned in the first year of life. Traditionally, the family played the role of the teacher during those years. But in instances where both parents are working, where single parents were struggling, and where some parents are indifferent, we have got to make sure that for the children of America in this age group, educare is provided that can give them the chance to grow in strong, constructive ways.
I never understood it, even sometimes auditing a class in child development here, just what it meant until I was taken to our public hospital to try to figure out what to do about crack involved infants and their mothers. And to see a child who could not go home with his mother because she was a crack addict. And watched that child not held or talked to except when changed and fed. And at the end of six weeks, not reacting with human emotions. While a child with severe birth defects across the room, whose parents were with her around the clock, who was beginning to respond through the pain with human reaction.
You understand what we're talking about. And this great university and all of us must transfer the knowledge that you have developed here and let America know loud and clear, let's invest in people. Let's invest up front. All the education in the world 10 years from now won't make a difference unless we give the children the foundation upon which to learn.
And education. One thing we've got to do is recognize that teaching is probably the second most difficult job, after raising children.
And we've got to turn this nation's attitude about elementary school and middle school and high school teachers around and make people understand what a magical, wonderful, and critical profession it is.
Something is wrong with a nation that says to a football player, you can get a salary with six digit figures, and tell teachers that we're giving them what we're giving them. Let's get our priorities straight.
And for those students who are thinking about going to law school and are sure that you want to do that, I know five lawyers that have become teachers in the last five years.
But the best education programs from nine to three won't work unless we have after school and evening programs for children that are unsupervised. We can take architectural and city planning efforts and combine them with child development efforts and parks and recreation specialists to develop communities, to develop and design urban areas that can make a difference, that can have one stop shopping, if you will, for all the services that that child needs.
They can provide something other than just sports, art, music, so many creative opportunities for our children in such formative times. It makes no sense to invest in nine to three and then watch them walk out the open door into a world of violence, into a world where they are not supervised and supported.
And that brings us to safety. For too long, we've been waiting just to build the prisons to lock them up when almost every police officer I have talked to in America, not the social worker, not the child development expert, but the police officer says, you got to do something about it up front. The criminal justice system, if you funded it to the hilt, would never be able to turn it around by itself.
The psychologist should be teaching the police officer. And it is so exciting to see how police officers are responding throughout this country, reaching out to help, reaching out to solve problems, not just to enforce. This great university should recognize policing as one of the most difficult professions there is.
A police officer has to make legal decisions without having gone to law school. He has to make sometimes emergency medical decisions without having gone to medical school. He's got to understand crowd control. He's got to know how to use his tone of voice to calm an angry crowd. And he didn't get a BA from Cornell in chemistry. He probably graduated from high school. We can do so much if we take the knowledge of this and other institutions and help train and help develop policing as one of the great critical professions of this nation.
And we've got to give our young people skills. I often wondered why I had to have all these courses to graduate from high school. And so many people graduated and didn't know what they were going to do. Why not have a requirement that everyone graduate from high school with a skill that can enable them to earn a living wage?
A lot of my friends had a BA in English Lit from Cornell and they couldn't figure out what to do for three or four years afterwards. But if they had a skill, they could have put it to good use while they were figuring it out or reading poetry or sailing the Mediterranean.
We have got to give to our young people a sense of hope, a sense of purpose. I watched my aunts go off to war, an army nurse and a women's army service pilot, and when they came home, they were heroines to me. They had gone off to save the world from a tyrant.
I watched my mother tell us stories of the depression, of how people lived with so little and shared with so many. And I saw the pride in what she did and what people can do under adversity.
Let us take the magic of youth, the strength of youth, the hope and the courage of youth, and channel it into rebuilding America. And to do that, we all have to have trust in ourselves. Cornell gave me that. Cornell gave me an opportunity to know so many different people, people who question my point of view, people who open vistas, people who supported me. The ultimate strength of Cornell lies in the fact that it appreciates people more so than any other institution that I have come in contact with.
Take time as you proceed through life to smell the roses, to read the poems, not just to get caught up in billable hours, not just to get caught up in expanding your practice. But take time to enjoy this world, to come back this afternoon, to drive through the campus. I enjoyed this campus. I explored it. I loved it. And it is indelibly stamped on my mind.
But most of all, no matter who you are or what you become, remember your family. It is not the fact that I have become Attorney General of the United States or that I was elected five times as a prosecutor or that I went to Cornell or to Harvard Law School that is my greatest achievement. My greatest achievement is that I cared for my friends and I've been loyal to my friends and I've stood by them when they needed me, that I've helped two young people grow up after their parents died to be strong, constructive citizens.
And that my mother, with whom I lived till she died just before I came in Washington, never spent one day in the hospital as she was dying, never spent one day in a nursing home, and did manage to cross Canada in a train with me, go to the Caribbean for a cruise, take a motor home ride up the Blue Ridge to her grandmother's house where she lived as a child, and enjoyed life to the very end. That is what living is all about. Thank you.
FRANK RHODES: You have shown by your applause how much all of us have appreciated this moving and inspiring talk. And we thank you warmly and we welcome you home equally warmly.
I have a group of questions selected from the many that have been handed in by you to the red coated ushers. I will read as many as I can. And they cover a variety of topics at a variety of different levels. Miss Reno, as a woman who has transcended the boundaries of what is still a man's working world, do you have any advice for the young women in the audience?
JANET RENO: Yes. When I was about nine years old, we were living in the country in a little wooden house. There were four children in the family a year apart and we were rapidly outgrowing the house. My father was a reporter for the Miami Herald and didn't earn enough money at the time to hire a subcontractor to build a house and we didn't know what we were going to do.
My mother picked us up at school one day, announced she was going to build a house. And we said, what do you know about building the house? And she said, I'm going to learn. And she went to the brick mason, she went to the electrician, she went to the plumber, and she talked with him and she learned how to build a house. She'd had no experience.
She dug the foundation with her own hand with a pick and shovel. She laid the blocks, she put in the electricity and the plumbing. And my father would help her with the real heavy work when he got home from work at night. That house still stands today. In Hurricane Andrew, it lost one shingle and some screens.
It is a symbol to me that you can do anything you really want to if it's the right thing to do and you put your mind to it and move ahead.
FRANK RHODES: This is a historical question. What was it like to be president for the Women's Students Association at Cornell?
JANET RENO: I don't know where I stood, but I think it was right about here. The last time I stood at this microphone was in the spring of 1960 when I introduced former President Harry Truman to the student body, and it was one of the great experiences of my life. It was an extraordinary experience because I think I had been shy up until then.
Being president of women's student government was a wonderful experience, but where I think I learned most was that I waited tables to work my way through Cornell. In those days, we closed up women's dormitories at 12 o'clock and 1 o'clock. And I got room and board for closing up the dormitories so that I knew everybody and either I'd been in their dorm or I'd waited tables. And I think that was one of the great experiences in learning how to know people, to appreciate people, and another example of what Cornell has given me.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you. How do you believe the crime bill recently passed by Congress and approved by the president will serve to reduce crime and improve the public safety in rural and urban areas?
JANET RENO: One are the areas that we were most concerned about is the fact that crime has spilled over from urban areas into less populated areas of this country. Violent crime is down in many cities in America. Not in any sense enough for us to be in any way satisfied with it, but we do begin to see progress. But smaller communities are beginning to feel impact that they had not felt five and 10 years ago. So we wanted to craft the crime bill so that it had an impact across America.
This is a balanced bill that provides monies for prisons to house truly dangerous offenders. I will tell you as a prosecutor, as much as I think it's important to invest in children and to make this investment in people, the most critical effort I think we must undertake, it's also important to take that murderer that I prosecuted in 1978 who got life imprisonment and who gets out in five years because we don't have enough prison cells in Florida, it's important that we keep him put away. This bill provides dollars for states to do just that.
It also recognizes that youth violence is one of the great problems in America today and it provides monies for boot camp for serious juvenile offenders, not just for their detention, but for aftercare and follow up, recognizing that it does no good to take a 14-year-old who's put a gun up beside somebody's head and put them in a facility for two years and then turn them back to the streets where they got into trouble in the first place. We've got to provide aftercare support and follow up to make a difference.
One of the foundations of the bill is the money for the 100,000 community police officers. And wherever I go in America today where community policing is at work, where grants have been received this past year, we're beginning to see the impact of police reaching out to the community involving neighbors, citizens, in developing the priorities for that neighborhood and identifying problems and in bringing the communities together.
And the bill provides unparalleled money for prevention programs, truancy prevention programs, after school and evening programs that can make a difference. This bill will work if America stands up, comes together, and says we can make a difference.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you. Where did you room on campus?
JANET RENO: I was trying to figure out whether I was in, is it still Dickson six? I was in Clara Dickson six, the one closest to the golf course, my first year. The second year, they called me the night girl. I was the night girl at Sage. I closed up the dormitory and had a little room that I enjoyed very much. The second year, the same thing. I mean, the third year the same thing. And then the fourth as president in women's student government, I was able to select the room I wanted and I selected the room over the arch at Balch that looked out across the campus.
FRANK RHODES: Miss Reno, if you could focus your time addressing just one problem and hoping to see a solution to it while in office, what would you address?
JANET RENO: What I'm trying to do, and it is a big problem, but I am trying to do everything I can to bring the federal agencies together in law enforcement, in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention and truancy prevention and then link with education and with the Department of Health and Human Services and HUD in forming a coordinated effort that brings federal support to communities.
Not telling communities what to do, but saying to an area, look, you understand your needs and resources far better than we do in Washington. How can we help you rebuild community initiatives in crime prevention, in enforcement, in early childhood care for children, in truancy prevention? We have already undertaken this effort in four cities. It is a slow process, but we are beginning to see results. And it is one of the most exciting undertakings that I have been involved in.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you.
A very practical question. What do you recommend a third year law school student should do in order to get a job as a federal prosecutor?
JANET RENO: Mr. Moroney. First of all, try to get some internship experience. I can't speak, really, because I was involved more in the hiring from my office in Miami. But clearly, those that had had clinical experience in a good clinical program, a good clinical program, I found that they were oftentimes better prepared.
Those who had focused on the issues, anybody that goes to law school and thinks, oh well, I can do this with my eyes closed. I'm going to go out in clerk and learn a lot about it and get involved. I'm tired of going to school. You could oftentimes see through them because they didn't have the depth of judgment and analysis on some critical criminal justice issues. So use law school, benefit from it. Don't neglect it as you pursue clinical opportunities.
Keep trying. If you don't get it in one particular area and you're not absolutely wed to that area, look for opportunities in other districts. There are 94 United States attorneys across this country and they're hiring right now.
FRANK RHODES: Why is the US as a whole a more litigious society than any other in the world? Do you feel this is good or bad for the US economy?
JANET RENO: I can't talk about the US economy, but I think lawyers have an extraordinary responsibility. And I would have touched on it and I'm glad I have the opportunity to.
We litigate and use all the resources to litigate without thinking about the result. I have seen so many lawyers litigate and not win. I've seen lawyers litigate and use all the monies for courtroom cost and cost without thinking about their clients. They're more interested in winning the lawsuit than in what the ultimate impact on their clients will be.
I think one of the most important things that we've got to do, I'm taking steps to do it in the Department of Justice, is to teach lawyers how to negotiate. We go to law school. We learn how to try a case, in many instances. We learn about the art of advocacy. But we, in too many instances, don't learn a thing about negotiation. A lawyer who knows how to negotiate a good result for his client without the turmoil of litigation, without the cost of litigation, is sometimes little lower than the angels.
But it is not just the litigiousness of this nation that is troubling to me. One of the problems is that according to the American Bar Association, 80% of the poor and the working poor in this country do not have access to a lawyer. That means that too many in America, for too many in America, the law is worth nothing more than the paper it's written on.
I think it's important and I have talked to the American Law School Association about the need to develop community advocates who can function in limited ways to provide advocacy to people for whom the doors of the legal profession are closing. We have much to do with the legal profession to reduce the litigiousness, get cases settled in an appropriate manner, and give access to all Americans to our courts and to legal services.
FRANK RHODES: Why do you suppose the Clinton administration is not being recognized for its accomplishments, not only by the general public, but also even by many democratic politicians?
JANET RENO: I think perhaps the reason is that people want things to happen overnight. They want to feel good overnight. We've got to be in this for the long haul. And the remarkable thing about the President of the United States is that he has a tremendous intellect. He has a tremendous understanding of this nation and its history. He has a deep and abiding faith in people and he knows that things can't happen overnight.
The good thing is that he's not giving up. And wherever I go, I hear people, Republicans and Democrats, beginning to talk about what is important, how we must address the issues. I think it is critical.
I first started paying close attention to government during the Eisenhower administration. Here was a good democratic child, the first time I'd stayed up all night was when Harry Truman beat Tom Dewey. And I can still remember staying up literally all night to hear that happen. But I was so impressed with Eisenhower's nonpartisan or bipartisan approach to government. And I think all of us have got to do more of that.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you. Can you, as Attorney General, really stick to your principles and survive in Washington?
JANET RENO: Well, I'm trying.
But let me tell you how some of the moral dilemmas that I face. I am personally opposed to the death penalty. My reasons for doing that--
I think that all of law and government is designed to preserve human life, and for government to be taking it in a legal way seems inconsistent to me. I am concerned about the many people when I ask them as an interview question, what is your position on the death penalty say, well, I'm for it. Well why? It's a deterrent. Why do you think it's a deterrent? Uh, I don't know. Most of the studies do not show that it is either a deterrent or not a deterrent. And I think before we start executing people in a legal way, we ought to have sound, solid research to support the conclusion.
I think the only reason for the death penalty is vengeance. If I had walked into my home and found somebody had killed my mother while she was still living back then, I would have, if they were there, just torn them apart from limb to limb. But I think vengeance is a personal thing. Personal goes to people, not to government. I have, as a prosecutor, asked for the death penalty. And that is a very troubling dilemma for me. If I were in the legislature, I would vote against it.
So these are some of the issues that I have to grapple with as I work through it. Some I don't resolve to my ultimate satisfaction. But the way I keep trying to do things is to take the law, to take the evidence, and then when we get in a fierce debate I say it. And they start talking about, oh, what will the impact be? I say, we're not interested in impact. Just ask yourself the one question. What's the right thing to do? And oftentimes when we get to that answer, you can just feel the relief in the room.
FRANK RHODES: Very good. Here's a card.
Here's a card with a very brief question. Jan, can you come to reunion next June? Ken Ackley, '60 reunion chair.
JANET RENO: I made a promise to myself, because I love this campus so much. I watched some people come back to reunion very early on. And as I listened to them because I waited tables during reunion time, I found that the reunion was serving as an overlay on the recent Cornell experience. And I resolved that I wouldn't come back for a long time.
And I'm glad I didn't, because those memories have been so indelible. And just today I know how accurate they have been. Nothing is going to change them. So I expect to be back to Cornell hopefully for a reunion a lot.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Janet.
Two more questions. What has been the most satisfying part of your job so far?
JANET RENO: The opportunity to serve the American people.
FRANK RHODES: Very good.
One final question from Dillon Williams. '98. How does first female President of the United States sound?
JANET RENO: The one thing I learned long ago in politics is, and as a prosecutor it was very important, you never look beyond tomorrow in terms of what you're going to do. You just look to each day, take each issue as it comes. You may end up in failure, you may end up in success.
But I think the best lesson that I learned was back in 1972, I ran for office for the first time for the state legislature. I campaigned with a man who had been the only Florida legislature in 1956 to vote for a resolution demanding the ending of segregation of the public schools. He knew he was coming home to overwhelming political defeat. He was out of office for a number of years. He drank too much. He was despondent. But he made a comeback. Made a comeback as a prosecutor. And then he ran for mayor of Dade County at the same time I was running for the legislature.
I campaigned on what I believed in. And we were oftentimes on the same platform. He said, just keep on doing and saying what you believe to be right. Don't pussyfoot, don't equivocate, don't talk out of both sides of your mouth, and you'll wake up the next morning feeling good about yourself. But if you equivocate or pussyfoot and try to make everybody happy, you'll wake up the next morning feeling miserable.
Well, I've added to that, if you think about politics down the road, you may unconsciously let it influence you. So what I've tried to do, both as an elected prosecutor and now, is just take it one day at a time.
FRANK RHODES: [INAUDIBLE].
Janet, we want you to know how grateful we are for this memorable visit. I want, as a token of our appreciation and our admiration and our deep sense of affection, to present you with this Cornell Medallion inscribed with deep appreciation, Janet Reno, October 20, 1994.
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Janet Reno '60, the nation’s first female Attorney General, spoke at Cornell on October 20, 1994 during the university's Trustee-Council Annual Meeting (TCAM). Cornell President Frank H. T. Rhodes said in his introduction that Ms. Reno "blazed a trail literally for somebody of total unpretentiousness in a city known for its pretension” and exhibited “a level of integrity and personal courage which have won not only bipartisan but also national admiration.” Speaking to a packed audience in Barton Hall, Reno asserted that “For all my lifetime in this nation, we invested in smokestacks, we invested in capital facilities, we invested in automation – we haven’t invested in people… We’ve got to take ideas and optimisim and start investing in people."