May 19, 2019
As Prepared for Delivery
Before acknowledging those who have been part of my journey to this moment, I must first pay tribute to the President who inspired this award.
When we think back across the best and hardest passages of the past half century and more, we not only remember the singular presence of John F. Kennedy, but we can see as if it were only yesterday;
How the patriotism, brilliance, self-deprecating wit and the natural grace he symbolized and conveyed, truly did captivate and inspire our country and the entire world;
How he renewed our public life and the very definition of America itself.
Our presence now, and this ceremony each year, inevitably and pre-eminently honors him. That I too am honored with this award is something I accept with a full and humble heart.
So, thank you, Jack and Ambassador Kennedy. Jack, you not only share your grandfather’s name, but his spirit and his commitment to public service at its best as “a noble profession.”
Caroline, how proud your father and mother would have been to see your dignity representing America in Japan – to witness that glorious day when the people of Tokyo flooded the streets to watch as you rode to the Imperial Palace to present your credentials to the Emperor, and to witness America’s great compliment to Japan.
Thank you to Ed, Tatiana and Rose for being your own manifestations of excellence.
Thank you, Ron Sargent and Thomas Kennedy, for your leadership, and for welcoming us to this extraordinary place. Let me express as well my abiding gratitude to the Profile in Courage Award Committee.
I am happy to extend congratulations to Elazar Cramer on being selected as the 2019 Profile in Courage Essay Winner!
It is joy to share this celebration with those in my family who are my heart and my foundation: my husband Paul; my children Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul Jr., and Alexandra;
My grandchildren, Alexander, Madeleine, Paul and Thomas; their fathers Jeff and Mihiel – and my other grandchildren, busy with their studies but here in spirit, Liam, Sean, Ryan, Bella and Octavio;
Also, like family to me: Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senator Chris Dodd.
And I am pleased to be joined here as well by members of my official family in the Congress – including present and former Members of the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maryland delegations, including Congressman Joe Kennedy, who eloquently enacts in his generation, the Kennedy commitment to be a voice for the voiceless.
The Kennedy family has given so much to America’s history and to America’s future.
We remain in awe of the courage that is the Kennedy constant: their courage to accept the best and the saddest that God’s will has descended upon them and their courage to be a model of faith and hope –
Caroline, I especially remain inspired by the courage of your grandmother Rose, your mother Jacqueline – especially on this day – and by your courage, Madame Ambassador.
I prize the distinction of being associated with past recipients, who over three decades have been recognized for embodying that “most admirable of human virtues – courage.”
Among this legion of honor was my friend, the late Congressman Jack Murtha, a proud defense hawk, who was recognized for his courage to speak out publicly against the war in Iraq.
Before him came the peacemakers of Northern Ireland – John Hume and George Mitchell.
Last month, while in Ireland on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Accords, I was privileged to address the Dáil, the Irish Parliament, where I invoked the words that President Kennedy spoke in that very chamber in the summer of 1963:
“The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.”
What great wisdom: what appropriate guidance at this time. I repeat: “The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.”
I want to express in personal terms what this award means to me. When I was a girl in Catholic school in Baltimore, the Irish nuns from Boston would sing always the praises of the Kennedy family.
In grade school, it was they who introduced us to the book Profiles in Courage, which had such an impact on me, and on my generation.
In high school, I had the privilege to meet Senator Kennedy when he came to Baltimore. My father was Mayor, and I got to sit at the Head Table. Everyone was dazzled by his brilliance.
In college, I attended his inauguration and, on that freezing, thrilling day, heard his electrifying call to public service.
Never did I suspect then that, as House Democratic Leader, I would participate in a ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of that day, and hear the inaugural address in the President’s voice reverberate through the Rotunda.
And never did I expect that, as Speaker of the House, I would be given the Profile in Courage Award, then or now.
Profile in Courage. Courage is in the DNA of America: courage, and the optimism and hope that go with it, which are the shaping spirits of the American experience.
President Kennedy had that courage, optimism and hope when he pledged to America that we would land on the moon before the decade was out.
When President Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon in his speech at Rice, he spoke words that, today, are our constant inspiration:
“The vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first.
“In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort.”
Today, these words are the preamble to our innovation agenda and our constant motivation to address the urgency of the Climate Crisis. President Kennedy knew that America’s success would take us beyond the moon.
Courage in the DNA of our Founders was manifested when they:
- Declared independence premised on equality, as no one had ever done before;
- Declared, waged and won a war against the strongest naval power on earth; and
- Declared not only a new nation but a “new order for the ages” – inscribing on the Great Seal of the United States: “Novus ordo seclorum.”
Imagine the audacity of their vision and their trust. It was not arrogance, but courage, that launched this historic experiment in democracy.
America has always been a place of courage: from the immigrants who crossed the seas to take a chance on America, many knowing that they would never see their homes again.
To the pioneers who crossed a trackless continent. That saga has its scars; but without their courage, we would not be an America from “sea to shining sea.”
To our heroes who protect our communities and our country: our nurses, teachers, parents; and our men and women in uniform, and their families and caregivers.
Personally, to my father – Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. – who blazed a trail as one of the first Italian-American Members of Congress, and then the first Catholic Mayor of Baltimore; who would one day be sworn into the Kennedy Administration by the President in the Oval Office.
To my colleagues in the Congress who had the courage to elect me Speaker – the first woman Speaker of the House –
When I became Speaker for the first time, Father Robert Drinan, Democrat of Massachusetts, spoke to Members at a Mass the day before, at my alma mater, Trinity University in Washington, D.C.
He reminded us that our responsibility is to the children – urging us never to forget “Christ's personal love of children.”
“As I look around this church,” he said, “I see many people with conviction and commitment to their ideals. But what is important is the ‘third C’: the courage to act upon those ideals.”
In my public life, I have seen leaders who understood that their duty was not to do what was easy, but what was right.
Especially when my colleagues had the courage to support the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform that Edward Kennedy called “the cause of my life.”
Theirs too was a chapter in Profiles in Courage.
In their name, in the name of all who hold fast to an ideal in the midst of the storm, I accept this award. I do so with a word about what we face in these unprecedented years.
In the darkest hours of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote: “The times have found us” – and today they have found us again to strengthen America. It is not about politics but about patriotism.
How fitting is it that this Award takes the form of a stunning, silver lantern: symbolizing the “fire that lights the world.”
Thank you for this award, which I will proudly display in the Speaker’s Office in the Capitol as a shining symbol of our obligation to meet the challenges of the times which have found us.
Thank you, God bless the memory of President Kennedy and the family that he loved. May we heed his words that, here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.
God bless you. God bless America.
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