Excerpts from County Executive Jack B. Johnson's inaugural speech, delivered Monday at the Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro after he was sworn in.

I thank you, the citizens of Prince George's County, for this great opportunity to serve. I stand here today as a testimony to the American dream. My life, if it means anything, stands for the proposition that it is still possible to come from humble beginnings, to beat the odds and the doubters, to climb the ladder of progress and then to reach the very top. You, the people of this county, by your votes in September and in November, have taught a valuable lesson to your children.

The lesson says that education is the key to success. The lesson says to the mothers and fathers of Prince George's County that dreams of your children's success shall begin with you. It tells us that regardless of your finances, station in life, or ethnic background, nothing can limit your child's ability to achieve.

The lesson also proves that positive beliefs in self-discipline, integrity, hard work, respect for fellow men and women, faith in God, service to others and sheer perseverance will combine to lift your children to heights limited only by their dreams.

More than two hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin urged the citizens of his day to act as one. He knew that a young nation born of freedom and justice could not survive as separate states. He foresaw the risks of a divided nation and knew that unity of purpose would liberate all of them from their oppression. With his heart and might, he tried to avert armed conflict, but ultimately the dictates of freedom required the colonies to rise up as one. United in purpose, a revolution changed the world. And in those moments of fear came countless acts of courage, transforming an idea into the birth of a proud and strong nation.

Benjamin Franklin knew well how a divided people could destroy the very heart and soul of a community. Four decades later, President Lincoln looked out over a battlefield and heard the words of Franklin on a cresting hill at Gettysburg. Later Mahatma Ghandhi, Nelson Mandela and Dr. King would struggle with the very same precepts, that unless there is unity in purpose, a community could not long endure. They remind us that a divided house cannot stand.

The call for unity is as vital today as it was during the founding of a nation. Prince George's County faces challenges not unlike those confronting our foreparents. And today, we benefit from their resolve and their sacrifice. They teach us to stand with courage against challenge. They inspire us to fight for liberty and equality and fairness. They incite us to find solutions to become the very best community we can be. With wisdom, vision and tenacity -- we can do this and we will do this.

Today, Prince George's County has become a place of unparalleled diversity. Our nearly 850,000 residents are of every ethnic, racial and religious background. Many of us are the descendants of those brought to this continent against our will. But we have risen beyond the shackles of slavery to a place of freedom, and with our vigor and our spirit we join with all of our brothers and sisters to create Prince George's County as a place of opportunity, freedom and fairness for all.

In our 500 square miles, you can hear more than 100 languages spoken by people who have come from every corner of our world. All of us have come here to Prince George's County for that very same promise of equality and opportunity -- to build for ourselves and our children a better life.

We bring with us our unique histories and our different dreams and our diverse hopes. We also bring our own fears, borne of oppression across the seas and at home. We are the pulse of urban America's big cities, Chicago, New York and Detroit. We are the Mississippi Delta. We are America's agricultural towns. We are the purple mountain majesties and the amber waves of grain, and we are all the small towns in between. Our diversity is our greatest asset. From many we have become one -- Prince Georgians -- tied together by a common destiny. This requires commitment to each other -- understanding and cooperation.

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. It is our national motto and it is us. We are greater as a whole, stronger together, than the sum of our parts. And it is this oneness that will create the energy, the drive and the passion to allow us to embrace our obstacles as we move forward.

. . . No single person possesses all the knowledge necessary to accomplish our objectives, but working together, the sky is the limit. As the guardians of the short- and long-term health of this community and of the values of its people, let us unite to build schools, pay teachers, provide homes for the poor, give health care to the uninsured, sustain growth, protect the environment and create model communities throughout this county. It is time for leadership that unites. It is a time for leadership with vision. It is time for us to achieve excellence.

. . . Together, we must build a world-class school system, anything less is unacceptable. Yes, economic times are hard, but that is not an excuse for inaction. Economic hard times did not stop our parents and it cannot stop us.

We can and must find ways to fully fund the Thornton Commission recommendations and get the resources needed to build and refurbish our county's schools. We must also look for growth by revising our current approach to adequate public facilities. I look at trailers used as classrooms and say this is unfair to our teachers and to our children. Our children should be educated in real school rooms, and our teachers need facilities conducive to learning. The Band-Aid approach of the past has to come to an end.

One cannot hope to build a first-class educational system without giving fair wages to our educators. I will work tirelessly to acquire the resources to not only build quality schools, but to provide fair compensation to our teachers, administrators, educational staff and our bus drivers.

We will work with our Annapolis delegation and the new governor for our fair share.

. . . To further emphasize the importance of education in the new administration, I have nominated Dr. Jacqueline Brown to serve as the chief administrative officer of Prince George's County. She is a county resident and deeply committed to educational improvement, as she has done for nearly three decades of her professional life. Her responsibilities will be many, but she knows the pulse of education and this county. I am sure her council confirmation will be swift as she assumes this awesome responsibility for the people of this county.

As we tackle educational issues, we must also bring down recently rising crime rates. Like education, the future success of Prince George's County is linked directly to our ability to combat crime and provide a safe environment for all who live and work here. I am committed to providing the necessary resources for our law enforcement efforts and to stop crime before it occurs. To this end, I have appointed Commissioner Patrick Murphy, a world-renowned police leader, who will assist us in achieving our law enforcement goals. But, we must also address the social ills that cause crime to increase -- drug addiction, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and lack of acceptable social values. As we eradicate crime, we will create more opportunity for development and attract high quality businesses we all desire as we retain our existing commercial base.

We must clean up neighborhoods by expanding code enforcement efforts, particularly in the inner-Beltway areas where so many residents are affected by negligence. The blight of abandoned houses and cars and littered streets are unacceptable in this most affluent of counties. I subscribe to the broken-window theory. When you tolerate broken streetlights and trash, you tolerate the obstacles to redeveloping neighborhoods. Together, we will clean up these communities.

We will work with developers who seek to build communities, not just houses. We will insist that they build neighborhoods with bike trails, ponds, trees, community schools and other amenities to enhance the quality of life. As partners with developers, we can create win-win scenarios by establishing the right balance of schools, transportation, infrastructure and housing.

Even as we seek to develop and redevelop our neighborhoods, we must also be careful to protect our natural resources and open space. We must have areas set aside for animal habitat and open space for the next generation. We are stewards of our land and our environment. A responsible development policy recognizes and embraces the need for environmental protection.

We must also protect our seniors and provide health care for the more than 90,000 uninsured Prince Georgians. We must also address a variety of health care issues relating to our seniors in particular. We must address the unacceptably high infant mortality rate, and we will also work together to expand neighborhood-based health programs to reach the uninsured.

. . . So, let us leave this place today with renewed vigor. Let us embrace the challenges ahead not as obstacles, but as opportunities.

I embrace the challenge before us. I have the courage to act and a shared vision with which to lead. In that unity we will truly be a county, a state and a country where the quote "American dream" is more than a cliche{acute}, but a way of life. Let us commit this day to heed Franklin's advice and hang together as we forge our common destiny.