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Serving and Succeeding in a World Without Walls

Saturday, June 1, 2002
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement at the National-Louis University, Northern Virginia/Washington, DC Campus Commencement Ceremony on June 1, 2002.

Thank you very much for that kind introduction, and good morning to all of you.

As Chief of Police in our Nation's Capital, I get invited to deliver a lot of speeches each year. (And if you've turned on your television set in the last week, you know I don't have much trouble getting on the news either.) But to be asked to deliver this commencement address - to a group of probably the hardest working students in the Washington DC area - is truly an honor and a privilege for me. And I am delighted to be part of this special occasion.

I first want to congratulate the faculty, staff and administrators of National-Louis University-Northern Virginia/Washington, DC Campus. As a native Chicagoan, I am certainly familiar with the "old" National College of Education. It was always one of those jewels that not everyone had heard about, but those who had, certainly recognized this was a school known for academic excellence and leadership.

Quite frankly, I was not aware that the humble little teachers college I knew from Evanston, Illinois, had grown into an international university with 15 campuses around the world, including this one in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. What I find most impressive about the growth of National-Louis University is how true you have remained to your core mission, of preparing individuals for a lifetime of learning, of service and of leadership. Today's graduating class is a reflection of that noble and really timeless mission, customized and updated for the unique needs of the students you serve in this region. So congratulations to Executive Director Susan Shumate, and all of the staff and faculty of this campus, for making this university and its students such a vital part of the Washington, DC community.

I also want to congratulate all of the families members and loved ones who are here today, joining in this celebration - the husbands and wives, sons and daughters, parents, siblings, significant others, bosses, co-workers and everyone else who has supported our graduates in their academic, as well as their professional and personal, pursuits. I don't think people always understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by the family members of people trying to juggle career, school, family life and other obligations. Very few of today's graduates would be sitting where you are without the love and support of your families and friends.This may be a little unusual, but I would like to ask all the graduates to please stand, turn around, and give your family members and other guests a big round of applause for all they have done for you. And, of course, I want to congratulate all of today's graduates for a job very well done. By your being here today - by being able to walk across this stage in a few minutes and receive your diplomas - you are all heroes in my book.

I know, from personal experience, all about that balancing act of career, school, family, relationships, and other obligations. As you heard in my introduction, I received my bachelor's and master's degrees from Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, in 1990 and 1991, respectively. But at the same time I was going to school, studying criminal justice, I was also out on the South and West sides of Chicago practicing criminal justice - tracking down gang-bangers and dope dealers and other assorted criminals.

Looking back, I'm not sure which experience provided a greater education - studying criminal justice theory and history and statistical trends in the classroom, or working the streets, figuring out how to put away the bad guys from the 'hood. But that's just the point, isn't it? If learning is indeed the life-long experience that we always talk about, then the distinctions - the artificial separations - between learning and living need to be broken down. John Dewey put it much more succinctly: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." The two - learning and living - are indeed inseparable. All of you know that, because all of you have been practicing that very concept for the last few years, as you attended this university.

My advice to you today: never stop practicing that ideal. Never stop viewing life as the learning experience that it is - inside the classroom, and especially outside of it, in the world of work and family and community. And never stop applying all that you have learned from your past experiences to the problems and challenges that lie ahead.

The motivation - the drive for personal improvement - the intellectual curiosity and imagination all of you have demonstrated in your time here at National-Louis will serve you well - and will serve our region and our nation well - in the years to come. Never lose those qualities, and continue working like hell to make them even stronger.

I understand that this university is sometimes described as a "school without walls." Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's good - because we find ourselves living in a "world without walls." The old rules have been shredded, and new rules are being written every day. Many of the walls - both literal and figurative - that once divided us are now gone, replaced in many instances by fiber-optic cables and satellites and microwaves that promise to connect us in ways that were almost unimaginable a few years ago. The Berlin Wall is history, and Russia is now being invited into the NATO alliance. Opportunities that were once denied - either through law or practice - to blacks, Latinos, other minorities and women have been opened to all. Those walls have been torn down. And some of the walls that we thought were there to protect us have crumbled as well. Terrorist threats that once seemed confined to only a select few "hot spots" in distant parts of the world are now very real - here in our Nation's Capital and throughout our country.

So we are living in a world without walls. A world where new technology offers the promise of connecting, communicating and educating like never before, a world of rich diversity and new opportunity for people often neglected, marginalized or "walled off" in the past, and, tragically, a world where fanaticism and the violence it breeds are no longer an isolated event, but rather a constant, gnawing threat for Americans. It is a world of both amazing prospects and horrible peril … a world in which - in a single day last September, played out on live television - we could simultaneously witness the very worst and the very best of man … and woman. It is a world of constant change and conspicuous uncertainty.

I ask today, who better to lead in this new and uncertain world than all of you?

You have already demonstrated the resourcefulness, the energy, the motivation and the skill to succeed in your careers, in your families, and in academia, all at the same time. "Multi-tasking" is a term that has become very popular - probably overused - in the business and information technology worlds. It is a concept that most of you probably know a little bit about. And as our world grows even more fast-paced and more complex, your ability to deal with different pressures and competing challenges will serve you - and your chosen professions - very well.

In addition to multi-tasking, you have demonstrated another critical talent for the future: the ability to work on and solve problems together, in a diverse group of problem-solvers. Look around the people seated next to you. You represent and reflect the amazing diversity - racial, ethnic, gender, background and interest - that has come to define our region and our nation. Our strength as a people lies in that diversity, and in our tolerance - indeed, our celebration, of the differences that exist among us. And we have used our differences - in perspective, in talents and in experiences - to come to common and creative solutions that are far better than any of us could have achieved working alone. That is teamwork, and that is problem-solving.

I understand we have some police officers among the graduates. You know what I'm talking about. For years, our profession thought the best, indeed, the only, way to fight crime was for one group of people - professional police officers - to go out and identify and apprehend the bad guys. We did that year after year, decade after decade - only to see crime rates in our nation continue to rise to intolerable levels. It was only in recent years, under the philosophy of community policing, that police officers routinely began to reach out to other people - residents, business people, and other public and private sector agencies. And it was only in recent years that we began to work at solving our crime problems together, collectively and collaboratively.

Out of this new partnership came crime-fighting strategies that went beyond arrest and prosecution, and began to include intervention and prevention of crime as well. The result, over the past decade, has been one of the most dramatic declines ever in our nation's crime rate. Community policing is just one example of how diversity of opinion, teamwork, and collaboration can make a real difference in the lives of people. You understand these concepts. You put them into practice every day - at school and on the job. And regardless of what you may do later in life, never forget the lessons of diversity and collaborative problem-solving that you learned here at National-Louis.

Finally, all of you have one other quality that has always been in great demand, but is of critical importance today. And that is the ethic of service. As I mentioned earlier, some of you are police officers. You know about serving others. You do it every hour of every day that you work - responding to other peoples' cries for help. I understand many of you are in the military service. Our nation thanks you for your dedication and bravery, your sacrifice and service in defending the freedoms that we all enjoy, and all too often take for granted. Your service is indispensable, if not always appreciated.

Some of you are school teachers, providing perhaps the most important service of all - educating, enlightening and, ultimately, transforming future generations of Americans. And others of you are in different types of public service, or have careers in the public or private sectors. Forty-two years ago, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy beseeched Americans to, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Forty-two years later, his words resound with new meaning and fresh urgency.

The terrorists who attacked our nation on September 11th, and those who supported them, were intent on doing much more than destroying buildings and taking innocent lives. They were intent - and they remain intent - on weakening our national resolve, on getting Americans to question our principles and our values, on having us resurrect some of those walls that divided us in the past - and then retreating behind those walls in fear and self-doubt.

Ladies and gentlemen, the terrorists who seek to attack our nation and undermine our values have sorely underestimated our strength, our courage and our resolve. We saw our true spirit on September 11th, as firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and military personnel rushed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in a heroic attempt to rescue others.

We have seen that spirit, day in and day out, over the past nine months - as Americans of all races, religions, and beliefs have come together in demonstrations of patriotism and community-building. I had the privilege this past week of participating in the ceremony officially closing the clean-up of Ground Zero - an experience that was both tragic and uplifting. And we see that same spirit here today, with a group of new graduates from this fine university poised to go out and continue using your knowledge, your talents, your hearts - to bolster our nation, its government and our economy in any number of important ways. And I am confident that we will always see that spirit in the future, as all of you join Americans across the country in taking up the truly timeless challenge that President Kennedy articulated four decades ago, always asking what you can do for your country, and always pulling through and helping others when that help is needed most.

Whether you are a professional police officer, or a volunteer Neighborhood Watch captain on your block… Whether you are a school teacher, or a volunteer tutor at your local community center… Whether you are a career military official, or a member of the National Guard or Reserves… Whether you become a titan of industry, or a volunteer coach with a softball team nicknamed the Titans… Recognize that your service is making a difference in the lives of the individuals you touch, and of the communities in which we all live and work.

Never underestimate the difference that each and every one of you can now make - as you leave this university and carry with you the experience, the motivation and the leadership skills you have developed here. Never, ever underestimate the potential of one, and never forget the strength of many working together.

If President Kennedy provided us with our mission statement four decades ago, then President Bush gave us our marching orders last fall, following the terrorist attacks of Nine-Eleven. I had his words inscribed on the walls of the Command Center at Metropolitan Police Headquarters: "We will not tire... we will not falter… we will not fail."

As I look out on this impressive and energetic and diverse group of graduates today, I am convinced - more than ever - that President Bush has captured the sentiment of our National Capital region and our nation as a whole. For none of you seems prone to tiring, to faltering, or to failing in the challenges that lie ahead. God bless each and every one of you, and your families. I wish you the best of luck and success as you continue to serve - and to lead - in an exciting new world, a "world truly without walls."

Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of this very special day.