Well, once again, thank you and welcome to the State Department, especially here to the eighth floor to the Ben Franklin Room, where we are always presided over by Mr. Franklin himself, which is especially appropriate for occasions like this, since he truly was a renaissance man.
But it’s a great personal pleasure for me to host this event here tonight. And I want to thank Jo Carole and Eden and Carol and everyone associated with the FAPE board for your unwavering commitment to expanding the role of the arts in American diplomacy. And I also want to thank the State Department’s Art in Embassies program and Beth Dozoretz, and all that they are doing as well.
FAPE’s generous donations are a great complement to what we try to do here at the State Department, which is to tell the story of America. And that is a story that can best be told not only with words but through cultural exchanges, through both our artists and the works of our artists. And I am so proud of what FAPE has been able to accomplish during the last years since I began working with them and watched their dedication from the time that I was first lady.
Now it is, for me, a labor of love every year to host you and to have so many generous donors and artists who are here with us. I really believe that each and every one of you is, in effect, an arts diplomat, so you are hereby brought into the Foreign Service on behalf of the United States. (Laughter.)
Now, I want especially to recognize our honoree tonight, I.M. Pei. I think that short movie gave you just the appetizers to the full banquet of the works he has done and the contributions that he has made. And I particularly enjoyed seeing his sons in that movie. He once said that in order for architecture to be recognized and lauded it must stand the test of time and history. Well, from Paris to Washington to Shanghai, I.M. Pei’s work has more than stood the test of time and history. And I believe it will continue to inspire people for generations to come.
Of course, I am personally not surprised, because among his many good decisions over the course of his life, choosing a Wellesley woman to marry – (laughter and applause) – for over 70 years says a lot about what he really is made of. (Applause and cheering.) And I’ve been on both side of the spousal divide, and I think we should give a round of applause to Eileen Pei for her life’s contribution. (Applause.)
Over the past three and a half years, I have spoken frequently about the ways in which we can use diplomacy to advance our nation’s values, interests, and security. Now, often that means engaging directly with governments or using new technology to connect people and expand opportunities around the world. We’re doing all of that.
But tonight, we’re talking about a different tool of diplomacy, one that reaches beyond governments, past the halls of foreign ministries and presidential palaces to connect to people all over the world. And that is, of course, the art that we are celebrating. The work of our artists, our architects, our preservationists, our donors, including those in this room, provide us with another language of diplomacy. They evoke our universal aspirations as human beings, our common challenges, our shared responsibilities. And that becomes even more important in the 21st century, where we are defending freedom, and we’re defending the universal rights that every person is entitled to.
In the past year, we’ve seen oppressive regimes fall; we’ve seen young democracies rise. We don’t know the end of the story, but it is a particularly American value to see people being given the chance to realize their own aspirations, to look at an I.M. Pei building and to dream, to look at a Joel Shapiro sculpture and to wonder, to be unleashed and feel that sense of human dignity and possibility that every person has the birthright to acknowledge and achieve. And that’s why we’re so proud to honor the artists who are contributing tonight.
I want to thank Ron Gorchov and Sol LeWitt and Odili Donald Odita and of course Joel Shapiro and Carrie Mae Weems. They do tap into deeper levels of inspiration. They go into the realm of perhaps the inarticulate, but which all of us recognize as the universal. I’ve been to a lot of U.S. embassies and consulates over the last 20 years, and I’ve seen how our art helps our diplomats more effectively and persuasively, even profoundly, represent our nation overseas. Because the art that we celebrate tonight provokes thinking, stretches imaginations, reminds us of the values and ideals our nation represents and what we stand for day in and day out.
So Jo Carole always thanks me whenever I’m with her, which is not often enough, for being a strong supporter of FAPE over all these years, but it is really I who should thank each and every one of you. Because what you’re doing is absolutely critical to what I do every day. When I get on that airplane, which I now have for 770,000-plus miles and – (laughter) – 96 countries, but who’s counting – (laughter) – I have the great privilege and honor of representing the United States of America. But I’m not just representing our government. As important as that is, and as passionately as I feel, and as proud as I am to represent the Obama Administration, I’m representing what America means, what it stands for, what it feels like, why people still yearn to come here, despite all of our challenges. We still represent values, feelings, impulses, rights, full potential of human beings in a way that no other place ever has. That’s a big responsibility, but also a great privilege and opportunity. And we could not do what we do every day without people like I.M. Pei.
So I thank you all for supporting FAPE, for coming once again. This will be my last FAPE dinner, but I will be cheering you on from the sidelines, because what you do is going to stand the test of time and history, just like one of Mr. Pei’s masterpieces.
And so with that, let me express on behalf of many Americans who will never hear of FAPE, might not even know about the artists who are here tonight, but who know somehow deep inside that unleashing the imagination is one of the great gifts that we can continually give to generations of people in our own country and around the world, and for that I am very grateful.
Thank you all. (Applause.)