Farewell Remarks to EmployeesSecretary Condoleezza Rice
C Street Lobby
January 16, 2009
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, everyone. Madame Secretary, I’d like to express, on behalf of the Department, our deep appreciation for your extraordinary dedication to public service, your extraordinary dedication to the pursuit of American interests and values across this very complicated globe, and especially your extraordinary dedication to the men and women who serve the Department of State at home and abroad. Whatever the challenges, however difficult the circumstances, yours has always been an example of uncommon decency, dignity, and grace. And it truly has been a great honor to serve you.
So, ladies and gentlemen, it is now my honor to introduce the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Condoleezza Rice. (Applause.)
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Well, gosh, this is quite a turnout. Thank you. (Laughter.)
First, let me thank Bill Burns. Bill is, of course, our Under Secretary, our P, but Bill is so much more. Bill is absolutely the finest example of a Foreign Service officer that I’ve ever met. He is someone who has enormous diplomatic skill. He is someone who has extraordinary patience. He is someone who inspires the people who work for him and with him, does the most difficult of tasks with a sense of optimism and equanimity, and does it all with a great sense of humor.
Bill, I’ve had the great pleasure and honor of working with you several times before, first in 1989, ’90, and ’91 when we were lucky enough to be there for the end of the Cold War, and then in the first term of the Administration when you were Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and then our Ambassador to Moscow, and then P. And I’m really sad to leave people like you, but I’m just delighted that you’re going to be here to continue your work with the new team. They will never find a better repository of skill and dignity and integrity and honor than you. Thank you very much for your service. (Applause.)
I want to say thanks to John Negroponte, my wingman, who does exemplify not just the finest in the Foreign Service, but the finest in the Foreign Service for a very, very long time. John, thank you for serving for 44 years. (Applause.)
You know, for someone to come here as Secretary of State whose single Department of State experience had been as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and to be in the presence of and the company of somebody who knows this place so well, knows its ways, knows its habits, knows it strengths, it’s been, really, John, a tremendous support to me. And I think we’ve done a lot of good things together, but you and Diana are marvelous friends and I look forward to continuing that. Thank you. (Applause.)
Finally, there’s a great cast up there of Assistant Secretaries and the folks who really make the place run. And I want to thank the senior management of the Department, because without them, nothing would get done, and they are people who take the responsibility to inspire their own people and run their bureaus well, but also have the highest values of American foreign policy in mind every day in the work that they do. And so thanks to a great team, many of whom are assembled up there.
But I want to thank this great team. When I came here as Secretary four years ago, I said that I knew quite a bit about the difficult days that this Department had gone through at the end of World War II, when the United States of America was facing incredible challenges, whether it was the Berlin crisis and the airlift, the Czechoslovak coup, whether it was the Soviet Union’s explosion of a nuclear weapon five years ahead of schedule, the Chinese communists winning their civil war, the Korean War breaking out.
It’s amazing to think what it must have been like to come here. It must have just all swirled about and seemed really impossible to think that some 40-plus years later, a young woman working for President George H.W. Bush as the White House Soviet specialist would be a part of the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the liberation of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany; that Japan and South Korea would be vibrant and vital democracies, good friends of the United States.
It reminds me, and I hope it reminds you, that history has a long tail, not a short one, and that it’s very important to keep doing what we do every day. Because if we stay true to our values and true to our principles, we’re going to continue to make progress toward a world that is freer and more prosperous and safer.
And indeed, coming here as Secretary, I have been a part of this great team that has also had to deal with challenges unmatched and unknown throughout the history of this country: in the aftermath of September 11th, to prepare the country to defend itself, to prepare the country to track down those who would do harm to us, but to do more. And while I believe that really, as National Security Advisor, I worried a lot about those days and the challenges to us and the threats to us, as Secretary, I’ve had the opportunity to also think about what those challenges mean in terms of what we could achieve, the opportunities before us. And the greatest opportunity that we’ve had is to act on what America really believes. You see, I know that there are those who say that you’re overly optimistic or you’re a little green or maybe you’re even naïve to think that freedom and liberty are going to spread to the day that no man, woman, or child will ever live in tyranny.
But you know, Americans believe that. And we believe it not because we think it is easy to see freedom spread, but because we know it’s necessary to see freedom spread. And we believe it because we have the humility of a people that went through a long and arduous and tough journey to fulfill our own democratic principles.
Just on my wall, as I sit in my office, is a portrait of Thomas Jefferson. He’s everywhere in this building. And I often sort of peer over the shoulder of whatever foreign minister is sitting in that chair, and I think, what would Tom Jefferson think that this descendant of slaves, granddaughter of sharecroppers, would sit here as the Secretary of State of the United States, the 66th, when he was the first. Because of course, our institutions at their birth were not very perfect. Our institutions at their – at our birth were marked by a birth defect called slavery. But we’ve struggled and we’ve fought and we’ve worked and we’ve insisted, and impatient patriots have pushed us, and slowly but surely, we’ve come to be a more perfect, though not yet perfect, union.
It’s a union in which the broad array of faces here, the faces of the world, every conceivable nationality and ethnicity and religion, come in the fabric of this great country. And that’s why I know that one day there is going to be a world in which every man, woman, and child will be free from tyranny; not because I think it easy. It wasn’t easy for America, and it’s not easy for anybody else. But because I know that freedom burns in the heart of every human being. And I know that the humble thing is not to say, well, you may want freedom, or you may not. The humble thing is to say you deserve the same freedom and liberty and right to pursue your life in liberty and in prosperity that Americans enjoy. That’s the humble thing.
And so I have been so privileged to represent this great country as its chief diplomat. I have been so honored to represent a country that believes in good, that tries to do good; a country that is generous and compassionate, and whose people are generous and compassionate. I’ve been so lucky to be the chief diplomat for a country that has never sought empire, and understands that power is only good when it is married with principle. And I have been so privileged and so honored to serve with each and every one of you. Because the men and women of the State Department, those working here in Washington, those working in the far corners of the earth, are the best example of what America stands for: you’re selfless; you work unflinchingly and untiringly. There’s not a single job in this Department that is inconsequential. There are only jobs that are well done and those that are not. And because I know, as Secretary, that we have achieved a lot, I know that you have done your jobs well.
And so I hope that when you wake up and you look in the mirror, and perhaps you’re feeling on some day not very optimistic about our prospects – America’s prospects or what we stand for in the world – just remember that if you stay true to what we’re trying to do, to our values, to our principles, if we keep working at it, it is, in fact, going to be inevitable that this world will be freer. And when it is freer, it will be safer.
Thank you very, very much for the honor of having been your Secretary of State. I wish you Godspeed. I wish you God’s blessings. You will always be in my thoughts, my prayers, and my heart. God bless America.
Released on January 16, 2009