Take Your Child To Work Day

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 28, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Arnie, thank you very, very much. Good morning, everybody. How are you doing? We’ve never been better off than with all of these part-time employees. (Laughter.) He wants to work here; he does work here. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a diplomat, this is a diplo-mutt. (Laughter.) And he’s great. He’s a lot of fun. He’s met a lot of prime ministers and foreign ministers, and they’re all shocked. (Laughter.) But unlike the foreign ministers, if I scratch him behind his ears he’s very happy. If I try that with them, I’m in trouble. (Laughter.) But he’s a good guy.

Welcome. This is a special day. We love this day around here. And I want to begin by thanking all of you kids who are so extraordinarily supportive of your parents – and I know you are, right? You make your bed, you clean up your room, you take – right? (Laughter.) No, no. Your parents do extraordinary work. I want you all to know that. And this department does extraordinary work. We are very, very blessed here to be able to help make the world safer. We help people all over the world. We help Americans when they travel, or sometimes have problems in the course of their travel. We help unite families. We help cure diseases. We help feed hungry people. We help to make peace where there is war, and we help to educate people where they don’t have an opportunity to get education. We help bring health care to people where they don’t have health care like you have so capably and readily in America.

So the work we do here is really the best work in the world. And we’re able to do it because you are supportive of your parents, frankly, really. There are long hours here, and I know that on occasion maybe a sports game or a play or maybe some kind of a meeting got disrupted or a parent wasn’t able to make it, and that’s because they’re here working hard for our country. So thank you for being patient and putting up with that, and thank you for coming here today to be a temporary part-time employee of the State Department. I hope you’ve done some good work today. Have you? Okay. I’m counting – that’s a yes, right? (Laughter.) All right.

What I would love to do is take some questions and have a conversation with you rather than just stand up here and lecture you or talk about something that you don’t care about. So I hope you’ve got some questions for me. Do you? A few here and there?

Okay, anybody – oh, there’s a young lady with an immediate response. I love it. Let me see, what’s on your mind? You tell me. And tell me who you are, if you will.

Uh-oh, we got the whole – (laughter.) Wow. Okay. Let me – hold on, everybody. We --


SECRETARY KERRY: Okay, let’s start – young – hi, there, young lady. How are you? So are you ready to go? Tell us who you are.

QUESTION: My name is Ana.

SECRETARY KERRY: Ana, how old are you?

QUESTION: I have a question about Ben.

SECRETARY KERRY: How old are you?

QUESTION: I’m nine.

SECRETARY KERRY: Nine, okay. She has a question about Ben. Somebody warned me, there’s an old saying: Never go out on stage with an animal because – (laughter) – he will absolutely upstage you every single time, it doesn’t matter what you do.

QUESTION: In my school we have a stage in the lunch room and they brought kangaroos up there for a field trip.

SECRETARY KERRY: Is that right? What happened? Was it good?

QUESTION: Yeah, we got to pet them.

SECRETARY KERRY: You got what?

QUESTION: We got to pet them.

SECRETARY KERRY: Cool, that’s great. So what is the question you wanted to ask?

QUESTION: How old is Ben?

SECRETARY KERRY: Ben turned three last week. He was three years old on Earth Day.

QUESTION: Can I pet him?

SECRETARY KERRY: Which is pretty neat. Right? Yeah. (Laughter.)

He’s three years old and he’s starting to behave better. He’s not as obstreperous as he used to be, so you can see – last time, remember, when I brought him here, I think he was jumping all around; he almost upset the podium and everything else. But now he’s actually getting to be behaved.

Sit. There. See? (Applause.)

Anyway, who’s next? We have another question? Yeah, over here.

QUESTION: My name is Vivian.

SECRETARY KERRY: Vivian, how old are you?

QUESTION: I’m nine.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good. We’ve got all the nine-year-olds up here. Okay.

QUESTION: On your plane, do they have, like, beds and stuff? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you’re opening a very, very sore subject. (Laughter.) Because, yes, there is a bed – one bed. You can probably guess who gets it. (Laughter.) The plane – it’s a great plane, and the Air Force does an extraordinary job of flying us around the world. As you know, I have flown now more than a million miles since I’ve been Secretary, and we’ve been to over 81 countries. But I have to tell you it’s an old plane that is – and it’s tough on the staff, because the seats aren’t as modern and don’t go far as back, and you can’t lie down. And so for me, I can actually lie flat, but nobody else on the plane gets to lie flat unless you lie on the ground, bring a futon – and I haven’t seen a lot of people do that on this plane.

So hopefully over time we can fix that up a little bit. But there is one bed.


SECRETARY KERRY: These are the inside questions, guys. (Laughter.) Getting it all out there today.

Okay. Over here again, yes. Yes, ma’am. Young lady – okay.

QUESTION: Hi there. My name is Savannah.

SECRETARY KERRY: Can you hold your mic closer to you? Yeah, thanks.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Savannah. I’m nine. And I wanted to know who you’re going to vote for president for 2016. (Laughter and applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. So I’m going to give you a half answer, okay? I’m not allowed to get into politics, and I don’t get into politics, but it is well-known that I work for President Obama, President Obama is a Democrat, I was elected as a Democrat to the Senate, and I served and I ran for president of the United States as a Democrat. So you can count on the fact I will be voting for the Democrat, okay? (Applause.) Thank you.

(Inaudible) that was a great question. Thank you. Great for everybody but me – no, no, no. (Laughter.)

Yes. Yeah.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Mimi and I’m 10.


QUESTION: I was wondering how many treaties you’ve signed, or if any.

SECRETARY KERRY: Treaties. Well, I actually – I actually don’t – I’ve signed one non-treaty, which was the climate change agreement that we just signed in New York. It’s not a treaty, it’s an agreement – a political agreement. And I initialed or signed the agreement on the Iran nuclear agreement when we did that in Vienna. So those are two – hey, Ben. Come here, Ben. Come on. (Laughter.)


SECRETARY KERRY: Do you have a dog?



SECRETARY KERRY: Do you have a dog at home?


SECRETARY KERRY: I think he smells your dog. Ben, come on. Stay here. Okay.

So – and I’ve initialed a number of other agreements – memorandums of understanding, or I’ve signed memorandums of understanding. But formal treaties, we have not passed or signed any formal treaty since I’ve been Secretary of State. I did, when I was in the Senate, work on ratifying a treaty on arms control, the START agreement, which we passed in the United States Senate, which was formally signed by the President and sent to the Senate for ratification. Okay?


SECRETARY KERRY: Got it. Hey, Ben. Hey, Matt, you want to just hold onto him for a bit? Benny, come on. He’s not a dog; he’s a guy. Okay.

Who else? Yes.

QUESTION: My name is Evie and I’m 10 years old, and I was wondering if you bring Ben with you when you go places, or what is the weirdest place you’ve ever been to?

SECRETARY KERRY: What is the what?

QUESTION: The weirdest place you’ve ever been to.

SECRETARY KERRY: Weirdest place? I can’t tell you that, because I’ll never be allowed to go there again, even if I want to. (Laughter.) So we have to keep that one a secret, okay? But I would love to take Ben with me. I don’t know how he would do on a 12- or 13-hour flight, so that might be a little difficult. But the problem is that most countries, a lot of countries have quarantines, and so you can’t just land with your dog and say, “Here I am.” And also a lot of hotels are not dog-friendly and so on and so forth. So I wind up not doing that, and I think he’s a lot happier having a chance to romp around back home. But I miss him. It’s hard to go. And he stands at the door. I’ve had pictures sent to me, “Ben’s missing you,” and there he is at the door, making me feel really lousy. (Laughter.) But he does pretty well with it. Thank you for a good question.

I want to know from you guys, by the way – I want somebody to tell me what you think, based on any conversations you’ve had with your parents or what you just think in general looking at the world, what do you think we should be doing at the State Department that could help make the world better. Anybody have an idea about that?

QUESTION: I don’t.

SECRETARY KERRY: Right back there, that gentleman. You come on up. I’m going to push you up to the front of the line for a minute. I just want to hear from you guys a little bit. Okay. What’s your name?

QUESTION: Marshall.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. How old are you, Marshall?



QUESTION: I think that the State Department should help with really everything that it can help with.

SECRETARY KERRY: So in other words, we ought to just do it all?

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.) Hard task.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, actually we try. To be honest with you, we – I can’t think of anything that we don’t try to help with. The only issue is whether we have a large enough staff or a large enough fund or commitment to try to do it. But we are engaged in almost every kind of activity that there is with respect to other human beings. We help justice systems to be built in countries. We help teach people English. We help train people in democracy. We help, as I said, provide health care or provide shelter. If people are without food, we help try to find food or we have a food program that is international that provides extraordinary assistance. So we do almost everything there is.

In some cases, we don’t do enough of it. And I think we need to talk about that in America, because we’re the richest country in the world, but we’re limiting now what we’re doing in a lot of places because of our politics and budget crises, and the result is we’re not doing as much as perhaps we should be and could be. So it’s a good thought, and I appreciate it very, very much.

Anybody else got an idea? (Applause.) Yes, thank you. Applaud him. That’s – absolutely. Who else has an idea for what we ought to be doing in the State Department that we’re not doing? I want to take the people in line first.

Yeah. This young man. Sure. What’s your name?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Can you hold the mike a little closer to you there? That a boy. There you go.

QUESTION: My name is Grady.


QUESTION: And I think we should send over medicine to Western Africa.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good for you. Good.

QUESTION: Because they’re trying to fight off Ebolio, I think.



SECRETARY KERRY: You’re absolutely correct. And I’m glad – (applause) – I’m really happy to tell you that we’re not only sending medicine over, we’ve sent people over to help train people in Western Africa to be able to fight back themselves and to be able to deal with the problem of Ebola. And as a result – last year at Christmas, they predicted that almost a million people would die because of Ebola. But because President Obama sent 3,000 American troops there to begin to build tents and treatment centers and facilities and deliver medicine, we were able to make it a fraction of that and actually reduce the danger to people all over the world. So you’re thinking. That’s a great thought. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

All right. A question. We’ve got to go back to a question, a few questions. Yep.

QUESTION: My name is Emma and I’m 10 years old. And my question is: What’s the most difficult thing that the – the most difficult thing that you have to do as Secretary of State?

SECRETARY KERRY: That we have to deal with? Answer a question from you. No. I’m joking. (Laughter.) The hardest thing of all – honestly, the hardest thing of all as Secretary is just the large number of immediate challenges that come across the desk which require United States engagement, involvement to try to prevent people from dying, people from being killed, prevent conflict. We have explosions in enough places in the world, more so than any Administration I think in history – have never had to deal with a Korea that’s threatening with nuclear weapon or the problems of Yemen where there’s a war, or Libya, where al-Qaida and Daesh – ISIL are there and presenting a challenge and there’s a lack of government, or Syria where there is a terrible war going on, a civil war, sending countless refugees out of their homes and across borders into other countries. So you pile those up over time and take a number of countries in Africa, a number of countries in South Central Asia, a number of countries in the Middle East and so forth, you have more than enough to fill the plate. And that’s the hardest thing of all is marshaling our resources and our diplomatic energy to be able to try to deal with all of those things at the same time. Okay?

By the way, I think we’re doing pretty well. I think we’ve got good things happening. We have a government coming into Libya. We have peace talks going on in Yemen right now; they’re going pretty well. We’re working to try to get the cessation of hostilities strengthened and more defined in Syria and move on a political process. We are – we’ve moved with China to get a stronger response to what is happening in North Korea. So in each place we have responses. We have things that are happening. Again, it’s just the question I answered earlier to the gentleman a moment ago is how much we have to do how quickly and whether we’re getting enough of it done fast enough. That’s always the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Over here. Hello, how are you?

QUESTION: I’m good. My name is Hope Titus and I’m eight years old and my question is: What was the favorite – what was your favorite place that you traveled?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Hope, I’ve got to tell you I love – first of all, I love traveling. I’ve traveled since I was just a little bit older than you, when my father was in the Foreign Service, and I traveled and went over to Europe, to Berlin. And I’ve always just loved taking in new places ever since then and learning something about a different culture. And what you learn is the world is so full of extraordinary places, I mean – and different kinds of beauty. There’s no one definition of what’s beautiful. You can be in the desert, you can be in the mountains, you can be near the ocean; there are all kinds of different places that strike you.

So I cannot pick one single place. I really can’t. And I’m not avoiding anything; I’m just telling you the truth. There’s just so much out there, and I hope you get a chance to travel and be part of that, because the world is so much smaller today than it’s ever been before. I hope that helps you a little bit. (Laughter.)

Okay. Over here. And I want somebody else to give me an idea for the State Department, so keep thinking as you’re here. Hello. Hi, young lady. How are you?

QUESTION: My name is Angel and I’m eight years old, and I want to know if people ever ask to work with you.

SECRETARY KERRY: If people ever ask what?

QUESTION: To work with you.

SECRETARY KERRY: To work with me. Yeah, every – I mean, countless people want to work with us. (Laughter.) We don’t have enough money to pay them all, but I get enormous – this is one of the best places in the world to work, and the State Department was ranked among the top three departments in all the federal government as a place to work. So we have a lot of people who want to come in here. It’s very hard to be hired here, because you really have to have, as your parents do, qualifications that are going to add to our ability to solve all these problems. So are you going to come and work here one day? Would you like to do that? Would you?


SECRETARY KERRY: Good. All right. Are you doing your homework? Are you working hard? (Laughter.)


SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. Okay. All right. That’s great. Hi there.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Lauren. I’m 11 years old, and I’m wondering why did you name your dog Ben, and is his last name Franklin?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. (Laughter.) You got why I named him Ben, because of Ben Franklin. Ben Franklin was raised in Massachusetts. A lot of people don’t know that. And his aunt – I think he lived with his aunt on Nantucket Island for a while and in Boston, and then we loaned him to Philadelphia. (Laughter.) So that is why I named him, because I thought he would be a good diplo-mutt. But look, he’s being – uh-oh, I just motioned to him and he’s ready to go.

Do you have a dog?

QUESTION: No, but I want one.

SECRETARY KERRY: You want one. Okay, parents. (Laughter.) I probably have a lot of parents here I’ve probably gotten into trouble. You’re all going to go home and say, “I want a dog like Ben.” Anyway, okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Hi. Once you’re finished being Secretary of State, what are your plans?

SECRETARY KERRY: Honestly, I don’t know yet. I really don’t. I’ve begun to kind of occasionally have a thought cross my mind about it, but I’ve got too much work to do between now and then. We have another nine months, I guess, or so, and I just – and first – and I’m not allowed. I’m not allowed to talk to a company or something like that while I’m Secretary, which is a good rule. So I’ll think about it starting the day I leave. (Laughter.) Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: What do you suggest? Do you got any ideas? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not really.

SECRETARY KERRY: Not really? All right. (Laughter.) See, that’s the value of being Secretary of State, folks. If you have any ideas, will you let me know, please? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sure, I’m open.

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. All right.

One thing I will say to you, though: I will stay active. I’m going to not suddenly walk away from caring about climate change or working on these issues. I need to find a way somehow to continue to be able to be active in them, and that I know. There’s no way to just stop suddenly being interested.

Hi. How are you?

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Claudia and I wanted to ask you if – when you make a new law, like, you know how you put it on the newspaper or on TV?


QUESTION: Well, how about homeless people? How do you tell it to them?

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow. That’s a really – that’s a hard one to answer, because if homeless people aren’t able to have access to television or don’t read the newspaper – and most homeless people don’t have the money, obviously; don’t read the paper – it’s very hard to be confident that they are receiving the input that you want any citizen to receive in order to make smart decisions as a citizen. You all, every one of you, have a responsibility to know what’s going on around you and to think about it and to be a good citizen and make a decision.

I happen to believe that one of the most important words in the English language is the word “citizen,” because it describes so much of the responsibility and of what – if you’re a good citizen, what builds community and a strong nation. But for homeless people, it’s very, very, tough, because they’re not – unless they’re taken to the shelter at night or picked up through a program that goes around and tries to make sure people are getting a square meal and a bed to protect them, they probably don’t get that kind of input. So it’s a problem for us, and we have too many homeless people still in our country.

So – I want to make a point about that. Even though we work in the State Department and even though our job is obviously to take our values and our interests to other countries in the world and to try to help other countries be stable and do well – and there’s a reason we do that: because it makes us safer here at home, because if we don’t have young people wandering around some country without a job, without an education, without any opportunity at all, so they get grabbed by extremists who then fill their heads with bad thoughts – that threatens us. That’s where a problem comes from. So we have a direct interest in trying to help other countries be stable and prosperous and build their country. But we always – always, no matter what – have an interest just – I mean, greater – in making sure we’re doing the right things at home to be strong here. And we all carry that dual responsibility no matter what, so we have to do both at the same time.

But you’re – you raise a very good question about homeless. It’s been something that has perplexed people for a long time, and part of the problem of homelessness is a problem with the absence of adequate mental health care in the United States. And we need more access to mental health care, not just the other parts of health care system which we have in hospitals and clinics and doctor’s offices. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Good question, very good question.

We have time – oh my gosh, look at that line of people. We have time for one more question.

QUESTION: What? What? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m – I got a little flexibility, right?

STAFF: Not much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Not much. See what happens? I’m – we’re going to make a little flexibility. I got to take a couple more questions. You know what I’m going to do? Because I want to be fair – way back there. You have your hand up, young lady with the blue dress on, blonde hair, and you’re really anxious to ask a question. So I want you to come down to the mike, and I’m going to break the line a little bit here. I’m not – you really have a question, don’t you? All right, I’ll come back to you. Go ahead and ask your question, and then we’ll get the – where is she?

QUESTION: So what did you, like – what made you think that you wanted to be Secretary of State?

SECRETARY KERRY: Not becoming president of the United States. (Laughter, applause.)

Actually, I’ll tell you the truth. I’m going to tell you the truth: When I was running for president of the United States, I actually said to my staff, “The best job in the government is actually not president, it’s secretary of state.” That’s what I said, and I still – believe it even more now. Thank you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. My name is Angelique and I’m 15 years old. So earlier you had asked the question about how the State Department can work to, like, be better for us. So I kind of adjusted my question to more of a suggestion. And I believe that the United States does a lot for foreign services and for the world and even for us here in America, and it’s very admirable, and we are an example to countries. And I think that what we can do, like with situations like ISIS, we need to – even as myself, like, I can – we need to inform our citizens about what’s going on around the world so we can take steps to bettering ourselves, to preparing ourselves to what’s going on, like situations with ISIS where they’re recruiting sometimes teenagers or people of all ages through social media. And so we have to make sure we have to – our people know and our kids know that this is what you can look for and these are the people you can turn to because you have a lot of support within our country to what’s going on.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Very, very smart. Very smart. (Applause.) You are right on target. That is a – it’s not only a great suggestion; it is something we are trying to do now and we actually need to do more of. We’re learning how to do it better. We are working with other countries – some in the Middle East, some in Asia – to develop centers where we have people who speak the native language who are engaged in responding on the social media and putting up counter messages, counter narrative.

And so your idea is absolutely on point because we have people who have left the United States, left Australia, left Canada, left Germany, left France, left other countries, seduced – sort of a – because they were reached by the social media and encouraged to go do this and they’ve gone to Syria to join ISIL and fight. Now, almost all of them have wound up being hugely disappointed and greatly disillusioned when they get there and they see what happens, because what ISIL has been telling them turns out to be a big lie and they realize it.

And so many have been able to break away and come back, and they are now the most powerful voices that go on the social media and tell other people what it’s really like. And the result is that there’s been a big reduction – even though some people still are going, there’s a big reduction in the numbers of people that are choosing to go. So you’re right on target. That’s a great idea and we’re going to do everything we can to grow that idea as big as we can.

Now, there are still a lot of hands up, and folks, I actually have to go back to work. (Laughter.) So can I just – let me just thank all of you who wanted to ask a question. Here’s what I’m going to ask you. If you’re willing to write down your question and give it to the director general of the entire State Department or whoever you’re with today, your parents, give it to him – I promise you – and put an address on it, we’ll get you an answer to your question. Fair enough? Is that a deal? All right.

MODERATOR: Please join me in thanking the Secretary. (Applause.)