Remarks at the Department of State Take Your Child to Work Day Ceremony

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
April 23, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Hello, everyone. Good morning to you. How are you? Everybody good? Misbehaved – (laughter) – unlike any of you, right? Anyway – (laughter) – he’s very hungry. Ben, sit. Ben. Ben, down. (Laughter.) He’s getting a treat. He’s – it’s Ben. He’s named after Ben Franklin. (Laughter.) Sorry, I thought he was coming to get him. (Laughter.) Put him on his leash. (Laughter.) He’s frisky. He was two years old yesterday; it was his birthday. (Applause.) And he came in yesterday and he’s gotten very excited about it, anyway. Now he’s going to calm down, I hope. (Laughter.)

We are really happy – I’m happy – I wish I had a microphone so I can get from – do we have a wandering mike?

STAFF: Right there.

SECRETARY KERRY: Where’s that? Oh, here. Great. Good. I don’t want to stay stuck over there behind that thing.

Anyway, I’m really happy to welcome all of you here today. How many of you guys have lived abroad? Raise your hands. Wow. And how many of you can say that you speak another language as a result? Wow, even better. That is incredible. How many of you speak two languages? Three, three languages. Four. A few hands, a couple of – three. A lot of threes. You have no idea how lucky you are to be able to already have languages under your belt. And I have news for you, as you go through life that is really going to serve you incredibly well. And most of you will find that whatever you choose to do in life, those languages are going to serve you, because you’re going to be able to communicate to people and have an ability to be able to do work that a lot of other people can’t do. So you’ve really empowered yourselves because of that.

And it’s one of the great benefits of being in the Foreign Service family. I hope every one of you understands this is a big family. We really are. It’s a huge family. And I hope you also understand your parents do some of the most important and very, very best work in the world. And you should applaud them, because they are heroes. They really are. They do great work. (Applause.)

When I travel around as Secretary of State, I’m privileged to go to the embassies where your parents are working, in many cases, when you’re not here in Washington or in between posts. And I’m always amazed by the breadth of the experiences that your parents bring to the table to do this work. And I’m also amazed by the connections that everybody feels to each other and to our country, to the work that we do.

Your parents are all ambassadors for the United States. Not everybody will get the title of “ambassador,” but everybody is an ambassador. And everything that they do every day helps our country to be able to take our values – our values are the things we believe in: free speech, democracy, fairness, justice. We get to take those values out and talk to other countries about why they would be stronger if they embraced those values. But we also get to fight for our interests. Our interests are things like making sure that we have freedom of navigation in the seas, making sure that countries aren’t destabilizing other countries by engaging in terrorist activities. Our interests are in having strong economies with whom we can trade. Peace, security – those are our interests.

So what your parents are doing always is helping us to be able to promote our interests and our values at the same time, and it’s hard, hard work. Every one of you who watches the news, you see television, you read the papers, you know what a complicated world we’re living in. But the United States has the great privilege and responsibility of really being the leader of the world, certainly the free world. And I can’t tell you how many things we do that make an enormous difference to other people.

I don’t know how many of you know this, but today – you all heard about Ebola, obviously. Last Christmas it was predicted around the holiday time that maybe a million people would die in Africa because of Ebola. But President Obama made the decision to send about 3 to 4 thousand American military troops to go over there to help to build the response so we could help people in Guinea, in Sierra Leone, and in Liberia to be able to save lives. And our military built new hospitals, clinics. We built the facilities to be able to treat Ebola. We began to help people to learn how do you avoid getting Ebola. And we have now reduced Ebola – not eliminated it but reduced it – from the potential that it would become a disease that could spread all around the world, to contain it and to save an enormous number of lives. We never got near that number of a million people, and we prevented disaster.

Now, there are many examples of that – AIDS in Africa, where the United States is the primary entity that is now going to see a whole new generation of children be able to be born AIDS-free. I can go through a lot of examples. These are the kinds of things that your parents work on.

And it’s a great privilege for us – really is important for us to be able to welcome you here today, all of you kids who’ve come here with your parents to share a day at the State Department. It’s very, very special for us. And I’m going to swear you in in a minute for the one day you get to be here as part-time special employees of the State Department. And I think you all have a folder with your thing in it.

But before I do, I want to take a moment to maybe answer any questions that some of you have, which is always very, very dangerous – (laughter) – and could put my entire job at risk. (Laughter.) But I was at an embassy once recently, and I like to meet with everybody. I may have even met some of you at one of the embassies. I’m not sure, but I assume I probably did somewhere. And one 11-year-old said – I said, “Do you have any questions?” And the 11-year-old piped up and said, “Who are you and what do you do?” (Laughter.) So sometimes these questions can be pretty tough. But I just thought we’d take a minute, because I want to share with you any thoughts that you have on your minds, and I would love to answer any question anybody has.

So who’s got a question? Who’s going to be bold here? Yes, sir. Young man, with your good-looking bowtie. Hold on one sec. Hang on.

QUESTION: When do you have time to relax? (Laughter and applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I love the idea. (Laughter.) I don’t get a lot of time to relax. I have to work pretty hard and travel a lot, but so do your parents. And I got some time over Easter vacation. I was with my daughters. I have two daughters who both have kids. Got three grandchildren from them and then three grandchildren from my grandsons – from my stepsons. And we got away for a few days and we had a really nice time. Best time there is family time. So that’s what I like to do to relax. You have a follow-up on that, huh? (Laughter.) Okay. Oh, thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it. Appreciate it. (Laughter.)

Anybody else? Way back here. Yeah, somebody up there, way up there. You got to shout your question out now.

QUESTION: What do you do as your job?

SECRETARY KERRY: What do I do as my job? I come to big auditoriums and talk to kids between age six – (laughter) – no. My job as Secretary of State is to work with all of your parents in all of the different divisions and bureaus that we have in the State Department. We have about 70,000 people who work in the State Department. Now, many of those people are people who live in another country, who are citizens of that country, and we hire them and they work with us in our embassies. But we also have an enormous number of contractors; we have people who come in to do special work, helping to build an embassy or make it more secure or different things like that. And I am in charge of all of that operation, but I have a lot of help from all of your parents. There’s no way one person does any of this.

So I work with your parents in order to work with all of our bureaus. We have bureaus for Africa, for Asia, for South Central Asia, for Latin America, for all the different sectors of the world. And we deal with all the problems of those different countries. And we deal with helping to get our interests and our values in balance working with those countries. And that’s what I do.

Every day I get to do something different during the day. I’m going to go from here and give a speech at a place called the Atlantic Council, where I will talk about trade. And then I’ll have some meetings in my office with different people on different issues. And then at 2 o’clock, I get to go over to the White House, where we will celebrate the victory of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, and we’ll have Tom Brady and everybody and – (laughter and cheering and booing.) See? So I knew I’d get a little controversy here today. (Laughter.)

Anyway, yes, way back here. Yes, right up there, with the red hair and the little – the young lady beside you. Right there, yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: Why do you have to wear suits to work? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I ask myself that every day. (Laughter.) I’ve tried to figure out what is this thing we wear, why do we do this. It’d be so much nicer just to kind of relax. A lot of people have figured that out in different parts of the world. They don’t wear ties anymore. They kind of relax. But we do it because it looks more formal and because we’re engaged in showing respect to people, and it’s a way of showing that you’re not sort of taking things lightly. You dress up a little bit to be respectful of the people that you’re meeting with, and that’s really the reason why, because there’s not a lot of logic otherwise. (Laughter.)

Over here. Yes, young lady.


QUESTION: Is it fun being Secretary of State?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry, both of you. Okay, two questions.

QUESTION: No, when did you get your dog? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: When did I get my dog? I got my dog – I got him – well, about two years ago when he was born, but for six months he stayed with his – the litter and where he was born while he was being somewhat trained. (Laughter.) He’s actually much better behaved than he was here. He got very excited because I had a treat, and he knows I have another treat in my pocket and he’s after it. (Laughter.) Normally he’s a little quieter than that. But I’ve had him for two years now, and he’s great fun. He’s a good pal.

The problem is I travel a lot, so I don’t get to see him. And that’s why I like to bring him to the office, because otherwise I really wouldn’t see him very much.

Yes, you had a question here. Who asked me the question?

QUESTION: Is this your first time being Secretary of State?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. You kind of only get to be Secretary of State once. (Laughter.) The President of the United States appoints the Secretaries of State. And so I was appointed by President Obama and we have an election for president next year, and so there’ll be a new Secretary of State. Usually it’s sort of a four-year period, but it can be less than that. It depends what’s going on.

Okay, a couple more, and then I got to run. I know. Way back – I got to go way back. Yes, young man standing up there.

QUESTION: What is your favorite sport (inaudible)?


QUESTION: What is your favorite sport?

SECRETARY KERRY: What’s my favorite sport? I have too many sports to have one favorite. I played – at college I played soccer, hockey, and lacrosse.


SECRETARY KERRY: But I don’t get to play lacrosse anymore, and hockey’s hard, too. I still do, a little bit, play. I love to ride a bike. I ride a bicycle. And I love watersports. Anything on the water, I love it.




QUESTION: What inspired you to be the Secretary of State, and what age did you decide?

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. (Laughter.) And you had a question beside her. Yeah.

QUESTION: How tough was it to become what you are?

SECRETARY KERRY: How tough was it to become what I am? Well, when did I decide to become Secretary of State? I didn’t decide; the President decided. And he asked me, but I think it’s the best job in the world, so it wasn’t hard for me to say yes, because this is a great, great job. I spent 29 years in the United States Senate. I was senator from Massachusetts, and I was chairman of the foreign relations committee. The President asked me to take this job, and I thought, given where the world is and the problems we have, and the ability just to focus on the issues and not have to do a lot of other things you have to do in politics, like raise money and so forth – very, very exciting opportunity to take the reins of the State Department. And I’m loving it. It’s a great, great job. And what – was it hard to get here? Sure. It’s hard to get anywhere that’s got a lot of responsibility or a lot of opportunity within a profession.

One of the things I would say to all of you kids is that there is nothing you can’t do. Every one of you – any one of you could become Secretary of State. Any one of you could become President. You can go be a great writer, a great dancer – you don’t have to be great or anything; just be a great mom and pop. The important thing is to do what you do as well as you can. And the important thing to do is to work hard – study hard, work hard, make the most of your opportunities. That’s what your parents are doing for you. And I will tell you that everything that is – anybody you see who is successful – maybe 95 percent – sometimes luck hits and things happen – but for most people, you have to really work hard to get where you want to go.

And sometimes there are setbacks. You don’t always get there. I ran for President of the United States in 2004. And I lost by 59,000 votes in one state. But you keep on going. You got to keep doing things. And whether you’re a dancer in the ballet, in New York or Washington, or a singer, or you’re an artist, or you’re a cartoonist, or you’re a writer, or whatever you do, you have to work hard. And you can have fun doing it, believe me, but don’t ever think that it’s automatic. And that’s the most important thing.

And the most important thing is really to work to your satisfaction. Do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy. That’s the most important thing in life.

One more question, then I got to run. Last question. Yes, young man right here.

QUESTION: Do you like to do chores?

SECRETARY KERRY: Do I what? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you like to do chores?

SECRETARY KERRY: Do I like to do chores? (Laughter.) You know what? I’ve never met anyone who likes to do chores. (Laughter.) Because chores implies that you kind of have to do something because you have to do it, right? But that’s the only way things work. If somebody doesn’t do the chores, then the family doesn’t work, or the business doesn’t work, or – you have to – everybody has to kick in and share. So whether it’s taking out the garbage or making your bed or cleaning up your room, or whatever it is, that’s part of life. And that’s part of working hard so that you could be secretary of state or president or whatever you want to be, okay? Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

Okay, guys. I’m going to swear you in. Now, you take the oath out of your folder, and I want you to repeat after me. I’ll say the first sentence and you say the oath after me.

(The Oath of Office was administered.)

By the power invested in me by the President of the United States, I declare you semi-official State Department employees for the rest of the day. Congratulations to all of you. (Applause.) And I’ll just tell you very quickly that is the same oath that your parents take and that I took and that everybody takes in serving their country.

So listen, I hope you have an absolutely wonderful day. Thank you very much for helping your parents to be able to work as hard as they do and do as much as they do. We are very, very appreciative. Thank you. Take care. Thank you all. (Applause.)