Today, as you know, we present two awards. The first, the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad, recognizes Foreign Service officers or FSO family members who have made a positive impact in the communities where our overseas posts are located. The second, the Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award, recognizes the FSO or FSO family members who have most improved the quality of life for FSO families because it is only with their love and support that this work that is often very hard and far from home can be done.
Last night in this room, we had our holiday – our first holiday reception, and it was for family members of those who are at unaccompanied posts. And we had just a large number of adorable children in their Christmas finery. One young man came up to me, said, “You like my sweater?” (Laughter.) And I said, “It is a wonderful sweater. I love your sweater.” He goes, “I wanted to look the best for you tonight.” (Laughter.)
But we talked a lot about what it’s like when your father or your mother or your son or your daughter or your sister or your brother, somebody, a loved one in your family, is stationed abroad, and particularly if your husband or your wife is, and you are basically there raising your children alone. So both of these awards highlight the kind of service that is essential to fulfilling our mission abroad, and recognize those who have brought America’s spirit of service to people and communities around the world.
In our country, we volunteer to serve because it’s really in the American DNA. We believe in the greater good; de Tocqueville recognized that about us so many years ago. In our civic centers, our schools, our places of worship, small acts of giving and sacrifice can make a positive and lasting difference in people’s lives. A few hours volunteering to mentor a child can add to a lifetime love of learning. Through food banks, clothing drives, bake sales, we often try to do our best to help the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
And in today’s interconnected world, it is no surprise that our honorees have carried that spirit with them to towns and villages far beyond our shores. They work to strengthen the bilateral and multilateral partnerships that protect American interests and our people in their day jobs, and then they go out and do even more. And oftentimes, what they do in their volunteer hours speaks volumes about who we are as a people. It is one thing to give a talk or try to negotiate some treaty that demonstrates our values. It is another thing to embody and live them.
So I thank those who are being honored today. And I’m very grateful to have this first opportunity as Secretary of State to join in this extraordinary service. So Erin and JanMarie and Lara and Jay and Bernie, and Jan Irene, you are truly the face of America overseas. And Mette, your decades of advocacy on behalf of FSO families have had a global impact. And together, all of you have moved our public diplomacy forward.
So with that, let me thank you and presage the honor that you are about to say – about to receive because of your consulate community service teams, your community-based recycling programs, your mobile museum projects, your innovative urban planning proposals. You have showcased the range of issues that Americans care about.
And so on behalf of President Obama and myself, I thank you for your service to our country and the service you perform to people who may not even know your name, but they know you’re an American, and that counts for a lot.
So let’s give a round of applause to our honorees. (Applause.)
# # #