Remarks at the Unaccompanied Tour Family Holiday Reception

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 13, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Hi, good afternoon.


SECRETARY KERRY: Aw, come on, you can do better than that. Hi.


SECRETARY KERRY: All right, all right. Now everybody is getting excited again. Whoa, let me just make sure – here we go. So hello, everybody, and welcome. I am really happy to welcome you all here to the Ben Franklin Room of the State Department, and Happy Holidays to all of you. My wife Teresa is over here, and she welcomes everybody with me. (Applause.)

And I won’t embarrass my granddaughter by pointing her out, but she’s over here somewhere. All right, anyway. And I’m really happy that everybody could be here. I really want to congratulate and I want to thank the Family Liaison Office and all of our friends from Protocol for helping to put this event together, and we’re really delighted to welcome you all here and especially all of you kids. You are the guests of honor here, and we’re really happy to have you here.

I also want to welcome all of our guests from the diplomatic community. Ambassador Garang Akuong from South Sudan and Lydie Magba, the charge d’affaires of the Central African Republic, we’re very grateful that you took time to be here today. This guy hiding behind the podium, folks, who is pulling me around occasionally is Ben, and Ben is the closest thing that we have to a reindeer, okay? (Laughter.) He actually – Ben is my dog, but he prefers to think that I am his human. (Laughter.) And as you know, dogs are really fabulous creatures. If you feed them, if you scratch them, if you play with them, then they’ll be absolutely committed to you, they’ll be loyal to you alone, until somebody comes along with a treat, and then see you later, it’s all over. (Laughter.)

But I did not come here to talk about Ben. I wanted to welcome every one of you here and say – I’m going to let him go over there – whoa. (Laughter.) I’ll let you say hi to him the minute I say a few words, and then I promise you you’ll wish that you had never let him lick you hello and say hi. (Laughter.) It’ll be really horrible.

But I especially want to welcome you young folks here as we celebrate the holidays because you guys are doing it a little bit differently from a lot of people in our country, and that’s very special in its own way. But the first thing I want to know: Are you happy to be here?


SECRETARY KERRY: Are you okay? You having fun?


SECRETARY KERRY: All right, good. And for those of you who should be in school, you absolutely made the right choice to be here. (Laughter.) Even though you might want to be in two places at the same time, which is kind of what today is all about, because during the holiday season sometimes we find ourselves separated from our families, from the people we love. And this is obviously a hard time of year to do that because this is a time of year when families are together, and I know that that’s a very difficult time of year.

I – back in 1968, I spent Christmas in Vietnam, and believe me, I remember what it’s like. I got a great package. By the time I got the package, all the brownies were stale, but they tasted great because they were from the family, right? So it’s an important time, and I know it doesn’t feel quite right to be apart, as some of you are now or might be over the holidays themselves. And I know that Skype is a great invention, but Skype doesn’t decorate the tree and it doesn’t help somebody go to sleep if you’re kind of restless. So even when a hug is needed, it’s kind of hard to get out of the screen and give a big hug, and I know that.

So I just want to emphasize to all of you that representing America abroad is what the State Department is all about. And it’s more than just a job; it’s a calling. And everybody here is a member of a family. We’re all part of the same family. And often, there are places that demand our presence. When I say that, in many cases your mother or your dad are required to be somewhere in order to serve their country, and it’s not the most suitable place for a lot of different reasons for the whole family to go and spend some time.

So knowing and accepting that does not make the fact of separation any easier, and we all know that. So there are now unfortunately – because of some of the issues we face in the world, there are more places where people are now not with their families just because of the way the world is. And I think there was an increase from 200 to 900 places where that is true today from just the past 15 years. So that means that most of our professionals, most of the people who work in this department, will at some point in their career be assigned to such a post for one year or more.

And those are not ordinary deployments. As we prepare our holiday celebrations here at home, our thoughts and our prayers are very much with them, and they’re with the men and the women in today’s world on duty in some very friendly but troubled land – a place like Iraq or Afghanistan or Tunisia or Pakistan or South Sudan. So the assignments that your parents in one case or another are off serving in now reflect the importance of the missions that we are involved in, and the duties that our people perform in these places show what America is really all about as we work for peace and for security. We’re helping local populations to be able to strengthen their communities, to be able to go to school, to be able to have health care, to be able to take care of their lives. And so your parents are standing up for freedom and they’re standing up for human rights, and I hope you are as proud of them as we are proud of them everywhere. (Applause.)

And now, I know this because I’ve had the privilege as Secretary of visiting them all over the world, and I see what they’re doing. I’ve met many of them. But I also hear from foreign governments when I go somewhere; people say thank you for what the United States is doing here to make a difference in our country. And I hear very, very grateful people saying thank you. And when I say thank you, they’re saying thank you to you. Now, whether we’re defending the rule of law or we’re advocating for the environment, this department is exhibiting leadership that is desperately needed in this world of ours, and it helps to make everybody here safer.

So the people that we have posted overseas, they’re doing a great job. But so are you – each and every one of you – because your love and your support are a source of strength for them. And when I visit embassies and consulates, I see pictures on virtually every single desk and every wall from wedding portraits, photos of soccer teams, grinning babies, boys and girls with big smiles, gaps in their teeth. And missing somebody especially at this time of year is never easy, but having someone to miss is actually a great blessing.

So having friends and colleagues who can make the waiting easier or make the holiday a little better, a little warmer, as long as you are part of the State Department family, you are not alone and you never will be alone. So we look out – (applause). I told you we’re a family. It is a family. We all look out for each other and we take care of each other. That’s why President Obama is so very grateful to you, and that is why you are – each and every one of you – entitled to the thanks of our nation.

Now, speaking of thanks, Ambassador Selfridge said I’d say a couple words. There are some people who really deserve our thanks for helping to make this such a beautiful display today and create some fun. And it takes a lot of generous support. I want to express my appreciation to our event partner. I’ve gotten to know him through these few years now – Farooq Kathwari. Where is Farooq? (Applause.) They have provided the furniture. His company has provided the furniture for our Story Time Corner in the unique Ethan Allen Disney style. And I also want to thank our other sponsors, including Sue Pyatt and Kinder Haus Toys. I want to thank the National Building Museum, Caterpillar, the Hershey Company, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainments, and sweetest of all, Dolci Gelati, for our very own gelato cart with all of the holiday flavors.

So now I have a very special treat for all of you. We have members of the cast of the Kennedy Center production of the musical Wicked. (Cheers.) And – Ben, they – you didn’t get as big a cheer as they did. (Laughter.) They are here to perform for all of you. And in my home state of Massachusetts, the fact that they are going to be performing, we would say, “That’s wicked awesome.” (Laughter.) Actually, we’d say “wicked awesome.” But – so join me in giving a great big State Department welcome to our guests from the merry old land of Oz. Thank you. (Applause.)