Well, thank you so much. This is a very special occasion for us, and I want to thank Rosalila for not only her wonderful words, but for representing the extraordinary people who are represented here in the Benjamin Franklin Room. Everyone here tonight deserves recognition for your resilience during difficult times of separation, especially in the holiday season. I know some of you work for the State Department, but many of you don’t, but we do consider you all part of our extended family.
I also want to thank the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Choir – love the hats, really glad you could be here, and the Holton-Arms Upper School Handbell Choir as well.
Nina, thank you for helping to make this event beautiful. You and all of the contributing magazines, their editors, many who are here tonight, along with David Monn, the design teams have really performed an extraordinary task under very severe time constraints. And so we thank you. This is the first time we’ve ever done both of these things. It’s the first time we’ve ever decorated these rooms and decorated the Blair House and had this very first holiday reception for unaccompanied families.
I also want to thank the Air Force String Quartet for being here as well.
We call this room the Benjamin Franklin Room, and it’s seen a lot of very distinguished people – kings and queens and presidents and foreign ministers and all other kinds of wonderful important people from around the world. In these rooms just since January, we’ve held more than 340 events and hosted over 32,000 visitors. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a more important occasion than this one, and so I am delighted to see you here. I especially am pleased to see so many young people and a lot of the children who are dressed in their very finest holiday attire. And as Capricia said, Blair House, which is the President’s guesthouse where the President will actually be entertaining during this holiday season, is such a historic venue that we are so pleased we were able to have the benefit of the magazines and their creativity to help make that special for the holidays.
Right now, your parents, your spouses, children, loved ones are engaged in some of the most important work we do in the Middle East, in South Central Asia, Africa and Europe. They are in one of the 17 locations that are considered unsafe to accompany them. They’re building schools. They’re resolving tribal disputes. They’re running English language and cultural exchanges. They’re helping bring greater stability and justice to people around the world. They are also helping us connect with those people. They’re engaging communities. They’re strengthening institutions. They’re reaching out to civil society. They’re keeping our diplomats, our development experts, and other Americans safe.
I know the huge sacrifices they make. I’ve traveled just in the last months, ever since January 22nd, about 185 or ’90 thousand miles, but who’s counting? (Laughter.) And so being terminally jet-lagged has a certain sort of rhythm of its own. And I see your family members at every single stop. And we literally could not do our job – just over two weeks ago, I was in Afghanistan and I had a chance to meet with U.S. employees and military personnel serving there. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving and many of the people that I met with wished they could be at home. But they were very resolved. They were unflappable in their determination to succeed in our government’s mission. And I was reminded once again how fortunate we are to have men and women of that caliber representing the United States of America.
I know I’ve probably seen some of your family members in Iraq and Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and so many other places. And I want to thank you. Thank you for the sacrifice that you are making and the service you are rendering because your loved one is elsewhere as we celebrate the beginning of the holiday season.
I’m very grateful to you. When we send someone to serve, oftentimes they can take their family, so the entire family is obviously there at the mission performing whatever the task might be. But I think of you also as serving, and I wanted very much to wish you a happy holiday season, to tell you how grateful we are for your sacrifice, for all of those decisions you have to make alone, for those times when you wish you could have that mother or father or that husband or that wife or that son or that daughter right there with you. But we are grateful and we are so appreciative of everything that you are doing as well.
And I particularly want to wish all of the children a very, very happy and merry holiday season. And we have lots of things to eat and drink. The speaking is done. (Laughter.) We hope that you’ll just spend time with each other listening to some seasonal music and knowing how much we really appreciate everything you are doing as well as those who are serving abroad. Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)
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