Well, it is a real pleasure for me to be here to say thank you once again, but I want to start with a thank you to Marcee for her unwavering commitment to the preservation and celebration of American history. She never stops working to expand our collection and give life to this body of work. And I think it’s really a wonderful tribute to her that her enthusiasm is contagious. I think we have all been infected. And it is a great contagion to have, Marcee, because you’ve made us all extremely proud to entertain anyone at anytime here in these diplomatic rooms.
I’m pleased to see so many of the staff and tour guides who work with Marcee to share these beautiful rooms and the objects within them with the more than 90,000 visitors who pass through here every single year. Each of you is instrumental in educating and informing people from all over the world, and broadening appreciation of our nation’s values and history.
I want to thank the Fine Arts Committee at the Department of State and the Fund for the Endowment of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. And I want to really give a special thanks to Adrienne Arsht for her lead gift in the 50th anniversary campaign. Adrienne, you’re fabulous. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Now, some of you know or have at least heard of the legendary Clem Conger, who was the former deputy chief of protocol and really responsible for so much here and also at the White House. He once said, “We entertain kings, prime ministers, heads of state here. We tell them that everything was made in America; they can’t believe their eyes.” Well, it is no exaggeration to say that I have that same sense of pride when I bring visitors from all over the world or we host an event in one of these magnificent rooms. It really does give us a great backdrop for what we are trying to do to further the diplomacy and the interests and security of our country.
We now are very fortunate because we have so many new attractions: the recently loaned stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence. I don’t know if David Rubenstein is here. If he is still here – he was here earlier – but that is a wonderful gesture on his part. The new gift of a clay olla from one of the oldest communities that is continuously inhabited in the United States. One of my favorite examples is the new Jasperware medallions that read, “Am I not a man and a brother?” presented to Benjamin Franklin for his efforts as an abolitionist leader. You could just go around here in this collection and really have an extraordinary walk through American history.
I’ve spoken frequently over the past 15 months about the importance of diplomacy in advancing our nation’s foreign policy. But when I say diplomacy, I’m not just talking about more energetic engagement with governments or more meeting in nations’ capitals or even what we call around here 21st century statecraft, which is the use of new technologies and new media to connect people and expand opportunity for understanding around the world. When I talk about diplomacy, I also mean diplomacy in the broadest possible sense, that reaches beyond government policies, beyond the halls of foreign ministries or presidential palaces, that really touches the lives of people around the world, that evokes our aspirations as human beings, our common challenges and our search for common ground, and an effort to bring people together to help solve the problems that confront us.
And it’s always been my belief that those who create, preserve, study, and teach art – including many of you in this room – provide us with another language of diplomacy. It’s a language that allows us to convey those themes and values that are distinctly American, yet speak to all of humanity. It’s a language that is not diluted by the formalities of diplomacy, but it is one that sometimes speaks through an object like the Jasperware medallion or tells a story like the Acoma Pueblo pot that we now have displayed. It really is about who we are as Americans. And think of what we celebrate when we celebrate the American art here around us. We’re really celebrating the creativity, the imaginations, the potential, the possibility, really the freedom that our country represents. So you, too, are part of American history now. And I thank you for that because you understand, support, and respect what these rooms mean.
Just since January of this year, we’ve held more than a hundred events, we’ve entertained over 8,500 guests, and we’re going to think hard about what the next 50 years look like. I have no idea what we’re going to be facing in 50 years, but I really want our country to be displayed and presented as well as it is here on the 8th floor.
And I thank you so much for enriching our work, for making all of this possible, for your continuing support. And you are now all honorary diplomats – (laughter) – and therefore, I expect that you will continue to support us in our efforts to try to tell the story of America at this moment in history. Thank you all so very much. (Applause.)
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