Remarks for USA Science and Engineering Festival

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 25, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Hi, everybody. I wish I could be there with you for the USA Science and Engineering Festival. This is the first year that the State Department is participating, and let me tell you from our point of view: We’re just getting started. 

Science and technology are obviously central to America’s diplomacy. And our diplomacy is central to advancing American science and technology. That’s why President Obama and I are absolutely committed to making sure that our risk-takers and innovators can dream big and reach higher than ever before. 

This cause is actually deeply personal for me. I’ll never forget in the summer of 2006, speaking on the Senate floor with an intern from my office. She was a college student from Massachusetts named Beth Kolbe. bad car accident had left Beth paralyzed from the chest down when she was just 14 years old. Beth came to Washington in order to fight for the scientific research that held untold promise for her, and for tens of millions of Americans. And you know what she told me? She said that wanted to be "a face that Senators can see so that they can see what they’re voting for."  

I really think of Beth every time I think about how we advance science and innovation. Because more and more, the most important progress in our world is driven by all of you: young people with the courage to think big and change things for the better; the willingness to actually go out and try something new even if it meant failure along the way. 

Each and every day, I see how we use science and technology to advance our diplomacy. I see it on the environment, where we use ocean mapping technology to chart our extended continental shelf. And I see it on international security, where we use the latest advances in nuclear physics, chemistry, biology, and emerging technologies to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And I see it on diplomatic security, where we use cutting-edge explosive detectors and armored vehicles to protect our facilities overseas. 

In fact, the way I’m even talking to you today wouldn’t be possible without our scientists, engineers, and technicians pushing the boundaries of what is possible. 

More than ever, we need to use our diplomacy to unleash innovation and ingenuity. And we’re doing exactly that. Just last month, we hosted a "CoderDojo at State" event to teach 21st century coding skills to kids, and we’ve helped to bring this volunteer-led movement to kids in Africa. We’re empowering women and girls to become scientists and engineers through "TechGirls," which prepares 15 to 17 year olds from the Middle East and North Africa for careers in STEM. And we’ve launched the State Department’s first "STEM at State" web page to showcase how science, technology, and innovation are central to our global mission. 

President Obama and I are committed to empowering the next generation of risk-takers and innovators in our diplomacy. By using your imagination in the classroom, all of you are making a difference in boardrooms and treaty rooms across the nation and around the world. That is our goal, and that’s what diplomacy is all about. 

So I tell you, I’ll never forget standing next to Beth that day on the Senate floor, fighting for greater investments in science and technology. Everywhere there is an opportunity to make a difference, there are students like you ready to be the Beth Kolbes of your moment – not by having to endure a terrible accident, but simply because you are able to inspire and able to push the limits. This is your moment. So let’s get to work and make these great things happen. Thank you.