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Public Statements

Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I have often come to the floor to talk about the remote and sometimes dangerous places around the world where our USAID and State Department Foreign Service Officers serve.

We all know about the difficult and dangerous places our brave military personnel serve, often at great sacrifice. We sometimes lose sight of their civilian diplomatic and aid colleagues working side by side.

I am always impressed that no matter where on the planet one travels, there is an outpost of American ideals and talent dedicated to diplomacy, human rights, and helping the less fortunate.

These civilians serving abroad can face a variety of threats. Yet they do it with dedication, patriotism, and a belief that the United States should always be a voice for good in the world.

Sadly, today I come here with a heavy heart, as the life of one of the brightest young officers from my home State of Illinois was cut short on Saturday in one of those dangerous places.

Twenty-five-year-old Anne Smedinghoff eagerly volunteered to serve the United States in Afghanistan on her second assignment as a State Department Foreign Service Officer. She was clear-eyed in her determination to make a tangible improvement in the lives of those around her. And after 2 years at our Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, Anne joined the Public Diplomacy team at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Anne was a bright spot on the Embassy compound, known to her friends and coworkers as an intelligent, caring, and optimistic young officer who worked hard to help Afghan women and children.

On Saturday, Anne traveled to Zabul Province to donate books to a school.

In a cowardly attack, a suicide bomber detonated near her convoy. Anne was killed along with four other Americans--three U.S. servicemembers and a Department of Defense civilian. Several others were wounded.

Anne leaves behind her parents, brother, and two sisters, as well as countless relatives, friends, and coworkers who deeply mourn her loss, not only personally but also as an example of the deep dedication our diplomats demonstrate every day in outposts all around the world.

I know my colleagues join me in our heartfelt condolences to her family and in our ongoing appreciation for the sacrifices made by our diplomatic corps.


This morning I went to a funeral in Chicago at Holy Name Cathedral. There was a large--in fact, it was a huge crowd. It was a tribute to America's foremost movie critic Roger Ebert, who passed away last week. It was my good fortune to know Roger and his wife Chaz and to be one of his greatest fans. Like myself, he hailed from downstate Illinois. He was born in Urbana.

In his memoir ``Life Itself,'' he tells an amazingly detailed story of his youth growing up downstate and how he finally made it to the big time, the Chicago Sun Times in Chicago, after he had been editor of the Daily Illini on the campus of the University of Illinois.

Roger came to movie criticism almost by accident, but in no time at all he set the standard, not only for the United States, maybe for the world. Rahm Emanuel, our mayor in Chicago, in a tribute to Roger today, said at the service that he wanted to personally thank Roger Ebert for sparing us from going to see so many terrible movies. So many of us would wait before we went to a movie, as the mayor said, to check the time of the movie but also to check what Roger Ebert thought about the movie. He was a go-to person when it came to movie criticism.

As you came to read the book about his life, there was much more than that. He was a brilliant mind. From a very early age, he had an insatiable appetite for the world around him. He used that in his skills as a journalist at the Chicago Sun Times and in analyzing the whole genre of movies, from the earliest classics all the way through the most modern. That life experience really put him in good stead when it came to taking a look at movies from the human perspective.

He, of course, became famous on television with Siskel, Roeper, and so many others. Most of us watched that program with a lot of joy as the two of them would squabble from time to time over whether a movie was worth seeing. But there was much more to Roger than that. We came to know today, in tributes that were paid to him, his deep sense of social justice, not just in the way he analyzed things but in his life itself. He really was committed to fairness and to helping the little guy. It showed in the way he lived his life, in the way he set a standard as a journalist.

Chaz, his wife, came along late in life for him but became a true partner. The two of them were inseparable, and they were a dynamic team in so many ways. But the things about Roger's life that impressed me the most--the most--was after he was stricken with cancer. It was a devastating cancer. He went through a series of operations. He eventually had his face literally deformed by the surgeries, as he lost his jawbone. Then he lost his ability to speak. Then he lost his ability to eat--to eat. Yet he soldiered on. He continued to write, reviewing movies, using computer-assisted voice translation so that he could express himself through a keyboard in words. He wrote a blog every day that I used to go to from time to time, not only because it was so good--so many insights into things I had never thought about--but also because it was inspiring that he would get up and go to work every single day when others in that same circumstance would probably just give up. Roger never gave up. That, to me, showed that he not only had a great mind and a great heart but a great spirit.

What a turnout today at Holy Name Cathedral for Roger Ebert. The balcony was full--if there had been a balcony--of fans with two thumbs up for a great movie critic, a great human being, and a great son of Illinois.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at the close of my remarks here an excerpt from Roger Ebert's memoir entitled ``Life Itself'' in which he talks about death and very boldly says, ``I do not fear death.'' It is an inspiring message that he penned over a year and a half before he actually died. It is an indication of the kind of spirit he brought to his life, a spirit we all admire to this day.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:


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