Using several vignettes to describe her life, former Attorney General Janet Reno addressed a crowd of about 1,000 students, professors and community members in the Lory Student Center Main Ballroom Monday night, stressing several times that there are ways for people to make a difference in the world.
"I will go to my grave believing peace is possible in this world," Reno said. "We can make a difference if we stop believing that America knows all the answers. I think if we use our senses and if we use our sense that there are other ways than killing or maiming to bring peace to this world. People say you can't make a difference but to the students: you can make a difference."
Reno spoke for about 45 minutes before taking questions from the audience. She began her speech by recalling the last time she left the Justice Center, eliciting a loud laugh from the audience.
"It was about four years since I walked out of the Justice Center for the last time," Reno said. "But a dark cloud appeared. And I said to myself, I didn't really agree to be on Saturday Night Live, did I?"
Reno recalled meeting SNL cast member Will Ferrell, who impersonated her on television during her eight years as Attorney General, with the same clarity that she later recalled her first few years in office when she had to make "tough decisions" including dealing with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in April 1993.
Reno discussed her decisions concerning Waco, speaking first of her decision not to act soon after taking the Attorney General position April 12, 1993.
"I resisted the effort to do anything and said to wait it out," Reno said. "I went through every step I could. We knew there was the danger of what they could do. I will never forget Waco as long as I live. We will never know the right answer for (those) that died with David Koresh (the leader of the Branch Davidians)."
Reno said a leader needs to be able to make tough decisions and stand up for the law.
"I could go home and hold my head high because I knew we tried to uphold the law," she said.
Reno stressed one of the most important things to do before making a decision like Waco was to know and understand the facts and be vigilant in what was going on.
"Most of all to be a leader requires vigilance and checking on what the programs are doing," she said. "We have got to be consistent."
Early in her career Reno said she swore never to be a prosecutor, but she came to see that "a good prosecutor can do a lot more good." As an example of making a difference, she recalled a man thanking her for arresting him on drug charges which forced him to change his ways.
Education was also a big part of Reno's speech. She said, several times, that everyone needed to be educated equally, emphasizing early education.
"We need to give people the tools they need to be the best that they can be," she said. "We need to educate all of our children not just some of our children."
After her speech, Reno fielded questions ranging from the Patriot Act to education and also a request for a recommendation to law school.
Though a group came to protest before Reno's speech and handed out pamphlets detailing several incidents such as Waco, the audience members said the speech was more than they expected. One commented on Reno's age, 66, perhaps affecting her speaking style, though it didn't detract from the message.
"Honestly we came tonight because we have a friend who is interesting in politics," said Amber Kantor, a senior mathematics major. "We wanted to come here and see a person who had been in such a high position. It's not an opportunity you get very often. I think the biggest thing I noticed is that she is an older lady. She had trouble a few times."
Jennifer Jones, a freshman mathematics and business major who hopes to go to law school, said Reno was an inspiration to her.
"Why would you not come?" Jones said. "I had questions coming here and she answered every one of them."