The College’s student chapter of the American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA) honored United States Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff with its Gene Carte Memorial Award last Wednesday.
However, because of security concerns, students were not informed of the event until a few hours before it began.
The award honors New Jersey natives in “positions of notable leadership in criminology and justice,” with recipients chosen by the executive board of ACJA. Chertoff, a New Jersey native from Elizabeth, was chosen because of his lofty position in the criminal justice field.
“It (was) an incredible honor to have the secretary accompany us today,” Brian Vanadia, junior criminology and justice studies major and president of ACJA, said. “We believe the secretary puts his life on the line every day in his position as well as protects the citizens of this country.”
“It’s not every day our students are able to witness a keynote address by such a distinguished speaker,” John Krimmel, associate professor of criminology and justice studies, said.
The award is named for Gene Carte, a former professor at the College who founded the criminology and justice studies department in 1976. The award was dedicated to his memory after Carte was killed at the University of Cincinnati when coming to the aid of a student who was being attacked.
In his acceptance speech, Chertoff noted the difficulty and hard work that students in the criminal justice profession face.
“Until you’ve sat with someone accused of a serious crime and talked to them as a person, you don’t realize the toll that the criminal justice system takes on them,” Chertoff said.
He spoke about 9/11’s implications for our country, comparing its importance to that of World War II for his father’s generation.
“It was either leaving ourselves open for another attack . (or) really substantially damaging our society and way of life,” Chertoff said of the delicate balance that had to be struck in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Chertoff has since helped connect the attack to al-Qaida, as well as pushed for more sharing of information between government intelligence agencies.
While he believes that the country has done a good job of balancing “freedom, prosperity and safety,” he does admit that it hasn’t been free of hardship.
“We do pay a price, seen in soldiers (that have died) in Afghanistan,” Chertoff said.
Prior to becoming the Secretary of Homeland Security, Chertoff served as assistant attorney general, as well as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Lisa McCarthy, director of Alumni Affairs, he received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1978, where he graduated magna cum laude.
Later in the program, the Law and Justice Alumni Chapter gave George Wagner, director of public safety for Hunterdon County and director of the Hunterdon County Department of Corrections, the Law and Justice Alumni Award.
Wagner, who received a degree from the College in criminology and justice studies in 1997, has worked in the field of criminal justice since 1980.
The Law and Justice Alumni Award is granted to alumni of the College who demonstrate “outstanding contributions” and have been active in the field of criminal justice.
Due to security reasons, the time had to be changed so that the two awards were given out in separate programs at separate places. Chertoff received his award in the New Library auditorium at 4 p.m., and Wagner was given his at 5:30 p.m. in Brower Student Center.
“Because of the high security concerns with him, we went back and forth (with Chertoff) on whether the press would be allowed in,” McCarthy said.
Chertoff was grateful for the award, particularly because students in the field were the ones who chose him as the recipient.
“I don’t think there is a more rewarding area of public service than criminal justice,” Chertoff said.