At the institution founded by the nation’s first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, Secretary John F. Kerry gave his inaugural public address on Wednesday, in Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia.
Noting that he had been here as an undergraduate in the late 1960s, on a lacrosse team for Yale. Secretary Kerry was introduced by UVa President Teresa Sullivan, by Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Albemarle; and by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va, whom he had known as Lt. Governor, and who now serves – as Sen. Kerry had for many years – on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Kerry just stepped down as Chairman.
Observing a sound pun on the words ‘Cabell Hall’ and ‘Kabul, Afghanistan,’ Secretary Kerry said that he “came here purposefully to underscore in today’s global world there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy.”
Secretary Kerry also pointed to the wall behind him, on which is a copy of Raphael’s “The School of Athens,” acknowledging its eloquence:
And I have to tell you, to stand here beneath the gaze of the sages of Athens, those thinkers who gave us the idea of democracy, which we obviously still continue to perfect, not only in our own nation but around the world, we are grateful for that.
He also couldn’t help but caution that the effects of the budget log-jam in Congress would be harmful to folks worldwide, and at this point the audience – largely comprised of students – responded in applause:
My credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order is strongest when America, at last, puts its own fiscal house in order, and that has to be now.
This last statement, also, drew a round of applause, as did his very clear statement: “Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow.” He also had some remarks about the folks in uniform.
I want to thank the ROTC and all those of you who have served and will continue to serve in some way for our nation. There is no greater declaration of citizenship than that, and I happen to believe the word “citizen” is one of the most important in the American lexicon.
Making the point that America is exceptional because we tend to see opportunity and promise where others see only problems, and in meeting those challenges in a democracy, we can continue to do exceptional things:
As we ask where our next steps should fall on this path, we would do well to learn a lesson from our own history. In the aftermath of World War II and its great toll, America had the choice, just like we do today, to turn inward. Instead, Secretary of State George Marshall saw in both defeated and allied nations the threat of bankruptcy, homes and railways destroyed, people who were starving, economies decimated. He had the foresight to know that there could be no political stability and no peace without renewed economic strength.
He knew we had an obligation to partner with Europe, help it rebuild, modernize it, and give it the push that it needed to become the powerful and peaceful trading partner it is today. After the war, my friends, we didn’t spike the football; we created a more level playing field, and we are stronger for it today.
When I was 12 years old, I had the privilege of living in Berlin, Germany, where my father, a Foreign Service officer, was called to duty. And one day, I visited the eastern side of Berlin, the part that hadn’t received any of the help from the United States and its courageous Marshall Plan. The difference was undeniable, even to my 12-year-old eyes.
There were few people on the streets, few smiles on the faces of those who were there. I saw the difference between hope and despair, freedom and oppression, people who were given a chance to do something and people who weren’t. If the recovering western half of Europe was regaining its vibrant color, the place that I visited was still in black and white. When I went back to West Berlin, two things happened.
First, I was summarily grounded for having ventured without permission to the other side of the city. (Laughter.) And second, I started to pay special attention to the plaques on the buildings that recognized the United States of America for lending a hand in the rebuilding. And I was proud. The Marshall Plan, the IMF, the World Bank, and other postwar organizations led by the United States are evidence of our ability to make the right decisions at the right time, taking risks today in the interest of tomorrow. …
Let’s remember that the principles of Jefferson’s time, in a nation that was just getting used to its independence, still echo in our own time, in a world that’s still getting used to our interdependence. America’s national interest in leading strongly still endures in this world.
Secretary Kerry is the author of "A Call to Service: My Vision for a Better America," and the co-author with Teresa Heinz Kerry, of "This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future." His first foreign tour will begin next week, and it will include visits to North Africa, the Middle East and to Europe.