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Debater Profile: Janet Reno - The Nation's First Female Attorney General

by The New York City Urban Debate League | Jul 30, 2017 2:11:41 PM |

debater, janet reno, debatet team


"If you disagree with me about a position I have taken or what I've done, tell me, argue with me, debate. Sometimes, right and good are not that clear; at other times, it is only deliberate and respectful debate that leads us to understand what road we should take."  - Janet Reno, first woman US Attorney General (and second longest serving), first Florida State Attorney, and member of her high school's debate team (and President of the Debate Team!)


The month of July marks the birthday of Janet Reno, known most prominently for being appointed as the first female United States Attorney General.  Born July 21, 1938, in Miami, Florida, she was not only a stern liberal activist and advocate for family and children's rights, she was a role model and pioneer for women across the US through her prolific roles in national law enforcement.


Reno began life with strong influences in human interest and democratic policy.  She was born the eldest child of Jane and Henry Reno, both of whom were investigative journalists.  Her mother, a reporter for the Miami News, was known as an artistic and intellectual woman who was said to have single-handedly built the Reno family home in the Florida Everglades herself.  She was known for her eclectic personality and avowed to have befriended the Seminole Native American tribe. On the contrary, her father was known for his work as a police journalist with the Miami Herald for over forty-three years. He worked closely with local law enforcement, with ties to judges and the Miami police department.  The careers of both of her parents would ultimately help to spark Reno's passions and shape her achievements.


Amidst her colorful and interesting upbringing, Janet attended Coral Gables High School in Dade-County, Florida, where she excelled as a debating champion and eventually graduated as valedictorian of her senior class.  She was elected as President of her Debate Team!  While her mother wanted her to go into medicine, her teachers that saw her on the debate team encouraged her to go into politics and law.


Following high school, she enrolled as a chemistry major at Cornell University and applied the confidence, public speaking, and reasoning skills built through her high school debate experience to become the president of Cornell's Women's Self-Government Association, an important early avenue for the safety and equality of female students at the university.  Once she completed her education at Cornell, she enrolled as one of only sixteen women in a class of over five-hundred students in Harvard Law School.  She successfully graduated from Harvard in 1963 to begin her path as a lawyer and to eventually become an internationally recognized public figure.


Reno began her career full-throttle, working as an attorney for two different law firms in Miami until 1971.  She drew from her strengths as a public speaker with an uncanny ability to persuade through reason and humanity, creating doorways for herself into the Florida judiciary system and later being appointed as state attorney for Dade-County, Florida.  This was a benchmark for women in the state, as she was officially the first female to be named as top prosecutor in any Florida county.  She held this position for fifteen years with a compassionate focus on juvenile justice and assistance for troubled youth.


In 1993, her renowned status as a democratic public figure in the state of Florida led to her appointment of Attorney General of the United States.  She kept her term through the entire Clinton administration, not only making her the very first female Attorney General, but the longest-serving AG in U.S. history since 1829.  


During her term, Reno's focus remained on children, criminal reform, and strengthening the justice system.  She was known for her striking public speeches and debate, being described as emitting a resonance that could not go unheard.  Reno was eminently known for being a detail-oriented, resilient individual who devoutly aimed her efforts at fortifying the family unit.


"Let us start talking in terms that are bold and creative and start talking about a workday that ends at 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, so that both parents can leave work and go home to their children."  - Janet Reno


Although her position as Attorney General came to an end with the Clinton administration, Reno did not fail to continue in her endeavors.  She remained an advocate for families, children, women, and criminal reform through debate and public speaking.  Through Reno's ardent pursuits and standing firmly for what she believed in with an influential and powerful voice, she was awarded on many occasions.  Among these, she received the Council on Litigation Management's Professionalism Award in March 2008, with which she was applauded and commemorated for her unique ability to lead others by example in the highest standard of their profession.


Although Janet Reno never married or had children of her own, she made great strides in her dedication to uphold and serve the family unit in the U.S.  Her aim was always for justice, integrity, and protecting the innocent.  Her accomplishments were historical - despite so much sexism, stereotypes and obstacles in her way. Click here for more of the sexism that Ms. Reno endured, overcome and laughed at. 


In 1995, Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.  She passed away on November 7, 2016, in the loving company of her family and friends.  She will always be remembered for her persuasive voice and perseverance, remaining steadfast in the face of adversary and leading the way for women in National Law Enforcement.


One of the most important aspects of Janet Reno's astounding life was the root system put in place by her high school debate team.  The benefits of learning to effectively debate reach far beyond public speaking.  It helped her evolve to become an organized critical thinker, to understand the importance of details and the multifaceted approaches she could take to gain public backing, and to persuade through dedicated research with an assertive, confident voice.   In those short few high school years, she acquired skills that would serve her throughout her life and career, enabling Reno to become a groundbreaking role model for U.S. law enforcement and women around the world.


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