Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 30, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Marcee. Well, it is a pleasure to welcome all of you here. And I want to thank Marcee, who has done a wonderful job. Her enthusiasm and dedication to this collection is palpable. And I think if you haven’t had a tour led by Marcee, you’re missing a real treat. I want to also – (applause) – thank her staff and all the tour guides and the docents who are here sharing these beautiful objects with the public – 40,000 visitors a year. And it really does just make me so proud that we’re able to share this with the public.

I want to thank the Fine Arts Committee at the Department of State and the Fund for the Endowment of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. I also want to thank a fellow cabinet member, the Secretary of Agriculture and his wife, Tom and Christie Vilsack who are here. Thank you for coming, Tom. (Applause.)

As we were doing the receiving line, a couple of you said that you’ve been doing this since Clem Conger enlisted you. (Laughter.) Once in, never out. And he is rightly revered as a legend for what he was able to accomplish in these rooms. But the ongoing commitment by so many of you plus the dedicated staff has been equally important.

To be sure that we continue to recognize and respect what it is that these rooms symbolize, I love telling our guests from around the world about each one named for a giant in American history. Every time I set foot in these rooms, I am very proud that we can conduct our diplomacy against such a stunning backdrop of American art and architecture. And we also use these rooms to introduce visitors to the breadth of our history and the scope and variety of the American landscape, from Niagara Falls to the mountains of Yellowstone, to Plymouth Rock, and one of our most recent gifts, the Thomas Cole landscape, that captures the mood and style of our nation in the 19th century.

So as you study each of these fabulous objects, I hope you will share the great joy that I feel in being able to work in this building. It was so touching for me to be here and be able to walk through these rooms and to know that others had come before and that the work of our nation, our values, never ends. And the newest addition to the collection, I’m very happy to say, is a portrait of a woman, Caroline Leroy Webster, and the wife of the great statesman Daniel Webster. And what a fitting reminder that our nation was built not only by great men, but also by great women. (Applause.)

I’m very committed to working with the committee and, of course, Marcee and her staff to build our endowment so that it reaches a point that enables us to not worry about the constant fundraising that is part of keeping these collections and adding to them. I was privileged to do that to help finish off a – an effort actually started by Pat Nixon and continued by successive first ladies. And I recognize some of you were also donors to the White House Endowment Fund.

I know we also have representatives from Blair House, another part of our State Department outreach to visitors from around the world. I cannot thank you enough for your gifts and your ongoing support. But I also particularly appreciate the joy that so many of you expressed as we were shaking hands and greeting one another to be in this room – in these rooms, and to feel that you too are part of American history and, in fact, you are. That’s what’s so unique about this extraordinary country of ours. It’s not only about the people whose portraits are on the wall. Every country has people whose portraits from the past are on walls.

What makes the United States of America unique is how individuals throughout our country’s history have taken responsibility for preserving the past, but imagining and creating an even better future. That’s what we’re going to try to do here in the State Department. And we want to be reminded of the very high bar that we face to make a contribution to our country and to the world similar to what has stood the test of time in history by the men and women represented in these fabulous rooms. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2009/424