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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2001 > December

Remarks to Kennedy Center Honorees

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
December 1, 2001

Good evening. Thank you, thank you. Please. Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Alma and I are very pleased to welcome you here to the State Department this evening on this magnificent occasion, where we once again recognize Kennedy Center honorees. For those of you who have never been in the State Department before, you are in the Ben Franklin State Dining Room, one of the more beautiful rooms in the set of diplomatic rooms that we have here on the Eighth Floor of the Department.

We are very proud of our diplomatic rooms, and especially this room. The first room you came in, where we had the receiving line, it got crowded so quickly that you didn't have a chance, I expect, to appreciate the beauty of the room. But on your way out, you might want to drift through there. Thomas Jefferson's desk is there, and many other beautiful antiques.

Alma and I are pleased to greet you not only in my capacity as Secretary of State, but as Secretary of State, I am a trustee of the Kennedy Center, and my wife is a trustee -- (applause) -- my wife Alma is also a trustee of the Kennedy Center. She is a vice-chair, and I am not. (Laughter.)

We are so pleased at the very wonderful turnout we have this evening, and as you will see tomorrow night at the Kennedy Center itself, the turnout is equally magnificent. It's a reflection of the fact that people wanted to come to Washington, people wanted to be here, not only to recognize the wonderful honorees, but to make a statement about the nature of our country in this time of uncertainty and danger, that you wanted to be here, you wanted to be a part of this event. And I thank you for your participation.

Tonight, as we approach the holidays that are essential to three great religions, Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid al-Fitr, the feast to end the fast of the Muslim world, we are gathered to pay special tribute to five individuals who have given of themselves for the enrichment of the rest of us. This year, we will celebrate these holidays symbolizing peace, hope and brotherhood in a time of turmoil, in the midst of a war visited upon innocent people by those whose beliefs are the antithesis of what all the world's religions cherish.

For thousands of years, wherever tyranny has raised its head, wherever despots ruled at the point of a gun, artists and their art have been among the first targets. Those whose only weapons have been ink and paint, dance and music, have been martyred in an effort to quell their voices, their vision, their spirit. The spirit of art is the spirit of all mankind.

Our Kennedy Center honorees are links in the unbroken chain, since the first storytellers gathered around fires and thrilled and amazed their audiences. They symbolize what is good and decent and uplifting in this world.

Among the first freedoms to disappear from Afghanistan when the Taliban clamped its grip on a suffering people was the freedom to listen to music, the freedom to see movies, television or theater. They took away the freedom of a people to choose to be energized, motivated and energized again through motivation with the arts and through the arts.

Those who crushed the human spirit in the name of false religious fanaticism knew what they were doing when they stifled those freedoms in the beginnings of their campaign of hatred and bigotry. They knew that a heart filled with music cannot be silenced, eyes filled with the images of art and theater and the cinema cannot be blinded to truth; those who know the beauty of the human spirit cannot be chained in darkness. For them, hope is never lost.

And when the Taliban fled Kabul last week, the people did not wail and cry and pray for their return. You saw the footage, you saw what happened. The people celebrated, they danced; they sang with joy in their hearts; they unearthed their hidden musical instruments and their music tapes and they filled the air with the sweet sounds of freedom. Television sets and satellite dishes emerged from secret hiding places, and once again, the larger world came into the rooms of the homes of the Afghan people. Exiled musicians and artists began planning a joyful return home.

Though the war in Afghanistan still dominates our daily news, we must not forget that there is still much that is good and positive in this world. More and more people live tonight under democracy, free enterprise and the rule of law than did last year, or 10 years ago. We are building new bridges of understanding with nations who were enemies during the long period of the Cold War. We are pushing free trade in the Americas and Africa to start people on a road to a living wage and a future of hope for them, and for their children.

Even this evening, when we see danger anew in the Middle East, we will not lose faith, as General Tony Zinni works to bring a cease-fire in that troubled place. Today is World AIDS Day. The United States has joined with the United Nations to create a new global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria throughout the world. So in the midst of all the trouble we see, there is progress, there is hope. There is far more good than evil going on today in the world, just as there always is.

Those we honor this evening represent much of what is beautiful and good and true in this world: Julie Andrews, Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Jack Nicholson, Luciano Pavarotti. They have given and continue to give us joy, and we must never underestimate the transforming power of sheer joy. Through their art and through their service to others, they are freedom's ambassadors to the world.

I and all here have over the years enjoyed the work of our honorees. Not all of us know of the quiet work they do on behalf of young people and the downtrodden in this country and around the world.

I think of my beloved friend Quincy Jones, with his Listen Up Foundation, which takes young Americans to South Africa to build houses and visit HIV-positive children. Q and his music are known on every street corner and village in the world. He and I traveled to South Africa in 1994, to attend Nelson Mandela's inauguration. Every kid on every street corner knew who Q was. (Laughter.) I was mistaken as his bodyguard. (Laughter and applause.) I'm sorry, Quincy, it was embarrassing, man. (Laughter.) I had to go up to kids, "Kid, I'm General Powell." You know, it didn't make any difference. He's cute. (Laughter.)

Van Cliburn will forever be known as the unassuming young Texan who captured the hearts of our Cold War enemies with his music and his genius in Moscow in 1958. I entered the Army in that same year. I entered the Army to be prepared to fight and defend against the Russians, not realizing that Van had struck a blow against the Iron Curtain more powerful than any army.

To this day, I can remember the scene of Van getting a ticker tape parade down Wall Street in my hometown of New York, the first classical musician to ever be so honored, perhaps the last -- we've been checking the records. (Laughter.) But Van's real pride and sense of accomplishment comes not only from such distant memories, but from the work he does to inspire and support young musicians worldwide through the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and the Van Cliburn Foundation.

Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music is the sound of freedom. It is one of the greatest movies of all time, and one of my favorites. It was on again last night, Julie, and I watched it again. (Laughter and applause.) And I couldn't help but be enchanted all over again. Julie captured all of our hearts so long ago, and they have belonged to her ever since, through the beauty and the breadth of her work over so many years. As has been said of Julie, she is an English rose that never withers or pales. (Applause.)

Harvey Keitel has said that being with Jack Nicholson is like being in the grip of a really good novel. (Laughter.) There's a hundred people inside of him, a whole world. Thanks for sharing some of your people with us, Jack. (Laughter.) I'm thinking of Randle Patrick McMurphy in Cuckoo, and Jake Geddes in Chinatown, and Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, just to name a few. Then, of course, there is Jack as the devil in The Witches of Eastwick. There are some who say that that part wasn't all that big a reach for Jack. (Laughter and applause.)

My favorite of all, though -- of all, Jack -- is Charley Partana in Prizzi's Honor. Jack, that was a remarkable role for you. Your innate compassion, your sense of fairness and decency shone through when you asked the Don, "Don, you want I should whack my own wife?" (Laughter and applause.)

Luciana Pavarotti has turned the whole world into an opera house, traveling the world over to share his voice with everyone. He has said that a singer must have the ability and desire to communicate with the public, otherwise he might as well stay home and sing in the bath. He has not wasted his time in bathtubs. He has taken his voice everywhere, from recital halls to Central Park. As he said in an interview yesterday, "I am a son of the world." And the world has been truly blessed by his talent.

To all of our honorees, you put forward the true face of freedom and democracy to this world that we live in and that we occupy in God's name. You give a gift to all of us that is priceless. The final judge of your efforts is not in this room; the final judge is time, and the verdict is already in.

Fifty years from now, the Taliban and Usama bin Laden and similar thugs and despots will be nothing more than footnotes in history books. But your work, the gifts you have given the world, your music, your voices, your images, the laughter and applause you produce, will still live and be fresh, bringing new pleasure to future generations. What a tribute to you.

So in the spirit of President John F. Kennedy, on behalf of those of us who have been privileged to enjoy your work, and on behalf of those who will come to know you, we offer two words more valuable than any medal: Thank you, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.


Released on December 4, 2001

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