Mr. Charge, Under Secretary Kennedy, Secretary Negroponte, Mayor Marilyn Alonte-Naguiat, family and friends,
Thank you all for joining us today.
I want to express my appreciation to President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for the confidence they have shown in appointing me as our ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe. I have tremendous admiration for Ambassador Bruce Wharton’s and Julie Wharton’s work in Zimbabwe and also for the superb team of Zimbabweans and Americans working jointly for the betterment of both nations.
Mr. Charge: Maskikati! Litshonile!
I look forward to returning to the beautiful land where our daughter Casey learned to walk, talk and emerged with a Zimbabwean accent that befuddled our family and friends when we returned home.
I am excited to introduce Mithi to the wonders of your homeland: the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the roar of Victoria Falls, the beauty of Hwange Game Park and, most importantly, the kind and generous Zimbabwean people. We look forward to being respectful guests in Zimbabwe.
We are pleased that the construction of our new embassy will inject millions of dollars and hundreds of much needed jobs into the local economy. Its construction is further evidence of our commitment to the Zimbabwean people.
Zimbabweans and Americans have much in common; our leaders fought and died for freedom. Our constitutions begin with the stirring phrase, “We the People,” and guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. We will invite the entire scope of Zimbabwean polity to our home and expect that one day soon we will dine with disappeared human rights activist Itai Dzamara. Our Young African Leaders Initiative will continue to reach out to the youth, and Voice of America will remain an opportunity for all people to express support and dissent.
We look forward to exchanges with Zimbabwe’s world-class sculptors, painters, musicians, writers, and poets. There is so much to share between our two nations – as cultural expression is essential to a vibrant society.
We will align with the Zimbabwean Government and people to further democracy, lower barriers to investment, combat HIV and AIDS, and end the scourge of human trafficking. We look to partner with Zimbabweans to conserve wildlife and bring American tourists who will help villagers dependent on the safari industry.
Our shared values underscore the importance of ending domestic violence, promoting gender equality and supporting the gay and lesbian community, because it does not matter who you choose to love.
We will build bridges to the Zimbabwean diaspora, best represented today by our friends Regis and Tanya Spandhla. Regis and I worked together in Embassy Harare back when I had hair and jogged to work. Why are you smiling? I did.
Regis and Tanya immigrated over 20 years ago. They had a family. Tanya graduated from college; Regis earned an MBA from GWU; one son has graduated from Maryland and the youngest will earn his bachelor’s from College Park next spring. Our nation is stronger because of Regis and Tanya and all of our naturalized Americans – Buddhists, Christians, Hindus Jews and Muslims – who are represented here today by success stories from Bangladesh, Egypt, Holland, India, the Philippines, Sweden, Uganda, and Venezuela, among others.
In this season, it is common place to say it has been a wonderful life. I truly have had a wonderful life.
I tear up when visitors arrive on a plane bearing “The United States of America,” on its side. I am blessed to be an American and my faith in our nation and its potential never wavers.
My friends and family: 74 years ago today – when the global community was at risk and frightened as we are following the senseless attacks in Paris and San Bernardino – President Roosevelt responded to the Day of Infamy by telling us that, “With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph.”
And we did. And we will.
I have enjoyed a wonderful life.
I have served in six nations, the last being the Philippines, where I acquired three new aunts: Tita Bing and Tita Rocio, as well as cousins, Insans, Len, and Steve. Thank you.
The Philippines – where I fell in love with Mithi at first sight, or was it the other way around?
Today, my father is smiling down on us, still asking if my shoes are shined and my tie is straight.
My 91-year old mother continues to lead our family.
I am ever grateful to them and to Nelda, my sister, the moral compass of our family, who continues to offer guidance and counsel.
Our eldest daughter, Casey, who is taking finals at UNC: You are forever in my heart and by my side, as is Nathan, our son-in-law who is fast learning how to survive the McClary’s and Thomas’.
To our young children, Miguel and Zoe, who excel academically at UST: We miss you, are eager to reunite, and wish youMaligayang Pasko [Merry Christmas]. You are with us in spirit today as are all the Aquinos. I grew up with Salimah and Jamil who are more sister and brother than niece and nephew. Our nephew Kareem has taught me the importance of living one’s own life to its fullest.
And to my cherished cousins, nieces and nephews: As Aunt Edna says, “We have a whole lotta love.”
Please join me in wishing our cousin Cametrick, the architect, Happy Birthday.
Noa, our budding Japanese language expert: This room is where you will be sworn into the Foreign Service in ten to fifteen years, probably by Under Secretary Kennedy.
My AF/S family: Thanks for the kindness you have shown me these past few months. Much appreciation to the folks in H and Jennifer Wicks’ fine presidential appointments team.
Cecile: Thank you. Jim: Thank you. And Ginny: Words are insufficient.
And to my most beloved College of the Holy Cross: Thank you.
Over the last few months, I have encountered many friends who ask, “Why are you going to Zimbabwe? Why don’t you stay home? Why do we have diplomats and what do you do?”
I was startled! Why do we have a Jim Bishop? Why do we have a John Negroponte? Why a Kristie Kenney or a Ruth Davis? A Jim Dandridge, a Claris Dance or a Jun Enalpe?
Because we are the world’s premier diplomatic corps.
We of the Civil Service, we of the Locally Employed Staff, we in the Foreign Service, offer hope and opportunity. We are the beacon of light, the tower of possibility, the symbol of freedom to the world.
We are one team; we are one mission.
And that mission is diplomacy, development and defense.
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and May God bless Zimbabwe and may God bless the United States of America.