Bethany Krajelis Dec. 17, 2013, 1:00pm

More so than ever, this year’s joint meeting of the state’s bench and bar associations was all about education.

In addition to the many Continuing Legal Education courses offered during the three-day event, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stressed the importance of education during his keynote speech at a luncheon the Illinois Judges Association (IJA) hosted Friday.

The annual mid-year meeting of the IJA and Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), which started Thursday and ended Saturday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, featured several CLE courses, as well as seminars, association meetings and a reception honoring Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman.

Although Emanuel focused much of his speech on his administration's efforts to get kids into school earlier and provide them with more opportunities to go to college, he told judges in the sold-out crowd that “education is the answer” to many of the problems that come before them.

He said helping kids stay in school can reduce crime rates and ensuring there will be jobs available to them once they graduate will not only make them proud of their city, but assist the  city's growth and economy.

If businesses know they will have a steady stream of workers in graduates of the city's public school system, as well as its community colleges and universities, Emanuel said it will make efforts to recruit companies here a lot easier.

Emanuel --who was fasting in support of immigration reform on Friday, a day he said included speaking engagements at breakfast and lunch events – told attendants that education is one of the many reasons he ran for mayor and continues to be a top priority.

Since taking office in 2011, Emanuel said graduation rates at Chicago high schools have increased and the reputation of the city’s school system has improved. He noted that four of the five best-rated high schools in the state are in Chicago, along with eight of the top 10 elementary schools.

“Every challenge and opportunity comes down to education,” he said.

Following Emanuel’s speech, IJA President Mary Seminara-Schostok told attendants that there is a correlation between crime and education and that as judges, “we owe it to the children of this state” to help education them.

The IJA, she said, plans to distribute the children’s’ book “Abe Lincoln’s Hat” to each judicial circuit and hopes the state’s judges will go to their local schools to read the book and educate kids about the legal profession.

Seminara-Schostok said in an interview after the event that she sought out Emanuel to be the guest speaker because of his passion for education and thought her colleagues would want to hear what he had to say on the subject.

“He’s working hard for education, and we need to be working at it as well,” she said, referring to judges. "We need to be role models.”

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