NOLA.COM: U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite stresses importance of eduction, community outreach
By Helen Freund, NOLA.com | The Times-PicayuneDecember 05, 2013 at 4:07 PM, updated December 05, 2013 at 6:56 PM
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The students packing the auditorium of a New Orleans Central City high school listened eagerly, sometimes cheering aloud, as the newest U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana gave them his words of advice on Thursday (Dec. 5).
“This is the most important venue,” Kenneth Polite said, addressing the students attending his investiture ceremony at Cohen College Prep High School.
The McDonogh 35 High School choir opened the celebration with a hymn while the color guard from De La Salle High School, from which Polite graduated as valedictorian, marched to the front of the packed auditorium.
Polite officially was sworn in on Sept. 20 as New Orleans top federal prosecutor, on the heels of longtime prosecutor Jim Lettens resignation, who, after 11 years in office stepped down amid allegations of misconduct in his office.
At the ceremony, the offices new leader was joined by family members and friends, as well as many former and present colleagues. Polite took his oath of office while holding hands with his wife and their two young daughters.
Among the crowd: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who backed Polites nomination, members of the U.S. attorneys office, New Orleans City Council members, parish presidents and law enforcement officials.
The majority of the crowd, however, consisted of students: Students from roughly 30 different schools in southeast Louisiana attended to see the youthful prosecutor speak. At 37, Polite was the second youngest U.S. attorney appointed by President Obama.
Polite directed much of his speech toward the students. “You are, in fact, the most powerful people in the room,” he told them.
Polite repeatedly stressed the importance of education and reform while addressing the problems of crime and violence in New Orleans. “Step outside of your comfortable homes. Step outside of your routines. Make a difference in the lives of our young people,” Polite urged the crowd.
“We have to cut off the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said. “Trade those prison suits for caps and gowns.”
He recognized and praised the efforts of teachers, counselors and students. “We all need to appreciate that those efforts are an ongoing struggle that require constant sacrifice and constant hard work,” he said.
At times, his voice reverberated across the hushed auditorium: “You can be part of the solution. You are a part of our future, and our future starts now.”
Before Polite took the stage, Xavier University President Norman Francis welcomed the audience to the ceremony and, like Polite, stressed the importance of education.
“Today is an inspirational blessing,” Francis said. “Words cant describe the significance of the presidential appointment. Today is a huge celebration because a native son has come back home,” he said. “We hope we bring more native sons back home.”
Mary Landrieu told the audience that Polite possessed an “undying commitment” to their future. “I literally could not find a more qualified, a more confident, a more enthusiastic young leader,” she said.
Holder called Polites new position well-deserved. He told the crowd of how, while growing up in the Lower 9th Ward, Polite saw first-hand and at a young age the effects of the citys struggle with violence and crime, and he stressed Polites dedication to community outreach.
“He came to understand the tremendous power of education,” Holder said. “He will be relentless in his pursuit of justice.”
After graduating from De La Salle, Polite went to Harvard University and then Georgetown University where he earned his law degree. He then gained a prestigious position as a law clerk for a federal appeals court, before holding jobs as both a defense lawyer and a federal prosecutor.
Perhaps the most heart-warming of all the speeches came from Peggy St. John, the principal of De La Salle High School.
Calling him “one of the most incredible young men to walk the halls of De La Salle,” she called him “one of our most impressive graduates” who was constantly winning awards and excelling in pretty much everything he set his mind to.
“I think his most important accomplishment is the man he became,” St. John said. “Kenneth, I could not have been prouder of you. Thank you of touching my heart. You have always been a winner in what really matters in life.”