Welcome to the celebration of USAID's 50th anniversary and let me the first to wish all of you a happy birthday. It is a great honor as well to be able to introduce our first speaker, Ms. Caroline Kennedy.
Fifty years ago, an entire generation of Americans was changed forever by John F. Kennedy's call to public service. The idea that we owe a common debt of service to each other, and that personal fulfillment could be achieved through a life dedicated to repaying that debt didn't originate with the Kennedy family, but it found a new resonance in the words and lives of John, Robert, Ted, Jackie, Ethel, Eunice and others. That vision inspired a generation, my generation. We responded by becoming Peace Corps volunteers, Freedom Riders, Volunteers in Service to America, human rights advocates, and, yes, development officers.
The creation of the USAID five decades ago reflected President Kennedy's commitment to partner with the people and the governments of developing countries to create a better life for us all. The motivation then - as now - was diverse. We understood that Americans prefer to live in a world that is peaceful, democratic, prosperous respectful of human rights and human dignity. We understood that, as with the Marshall Plan a decade earlier, America's economic prosperity and job creation depended on the ability to trade and invest in growing economies abroad. And we understood that America's national security depended on successful, stable countries able to resist the siren song of extremism and totalitarianism
We sometimes refer to the 1000-day presidency of JFK as "Camelot," reflecting the hopes and idealism of that period. But in truth the original Camelot was fictional and short-lived, while the spirit of public service inspired by the Kennedy ideal has lived on. We see it every day.
We see it in the faces of development officers in South Sudan, helping build a new country out of the ashes of civil war and atrocities. We see it in Haiti, supporting health and housing for a people devastated by centuries of poverty and an equally devastating earthquake 21 months ago. We see it in Afghanistan, building a stable society and helping more than millions of girls return to school. We see it in Colombia, strengthening women's groups, Afro-Colombians, disabled persons and the LGBT community in pursuit of "inclusive development." And we see it in the Horn of Africa, not only racing to rescue 750,000 lives threatened by famine, war and drought, but helping to build resilient communities and long-term food security through our Feed the Future program.
At 50 years old, USAID is as young and vibrant as ever. After all, fifty is the new fifteen.
We see this ideal as well in the life and career of our next speaker. Ms. Kennedy's tireless service has spanned law, politics, civil rights, education, and the arts. Her efforts include her work with the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Fund for Public Schools, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Harvard Institute of Politics and the Kennedy Library Foundation. She inspires us every day through her service, her dignity and her courage.
I'd like to conclude by citing a quote from Ms. Kennedy's uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, which I keep on my desk. Speaking in apartheid South Africa in 1966, Senator Kennedy said: "Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [he or she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
It's now my pleasure to introduce to you one such person, Ms. Caroline Kennedy.
Last updated: May 31, 2012