Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Delivered (prerecorded video)
Thank you very much for the kind introduction, Dr. Pelonis. Faculty and staff of the American Community School, parents, family, and friends, and most importantly, members of the graduating class of 2021, I’m honored to take part in this year’s graduation ceremony, and I wish we could be celebrating together in person.
I want to say a special congratulations to the graduates this evening from our Embassy community: Kayla, Kristopher, and Ana. As a diplomat who took my kids from India to Austria to Washington DC during their high school years, I have a good sense of the challenges you encountered by following your parents around the world. But I’m also very confident that through that experience, you have gained incredible insights and made friendships that will last a lifetime—even if most of your contact has occurred online over the past year and a half.
Graduates, as you reach this important milestone in your lives, I hope that the challenges of the past year and a half do not diminish the sense of accomplishment you feel today. You’ve made it through high school in the midst of a once-in-a-century, global health crisis that has transformed the world as we once knew it.
The pandemic has forced your generation to learn difficult life lessons, and I think you should be very proud of your resilience in the face of this unprecedented challenge, and all that you’ve achieved.
Thankfully, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of people like Dr. Albert Bourla, the Thessaloniki-born CEO of the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer, who persevered in his fight against the virus and worked with his colleagues to discover a solution in record time to help the world now move forward.
As Greece opens up, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity that you still have to experience all that this country has to offer before you head off to college.
We live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and after months of sending text messages just to go to the grocery store, I think Greece’s spectacular sunsets, turquoise-blue waters, and stunning natural landscapes will be even more magical this summer. I hope we all enjoy it!
But the success of the Pfizer vaccine is just one of many stories that demonstrates the positive outcomes of U.S.-Greece collaboration. Our shared history, and the values on which it’s based, offer an important message to all of us.
For two hundred years, our nations have supported each other in the face of great challenges like this pandemic. Together, we have fought for freedom and worked to make the world more secure and more prosperous.
A great tradition of scientific, social, and political innovation unites and continues to inspire our peoples. Innovative thinking played a key role in the founding of both of our democracies and continues to drive the U.S.-Greece relationship to even greater heights.
This year, as the United States joins Greece in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Greek independence, I think it’s also important to reflect on how the Greek and American revolutions were intertwined, because over time, these connections deepened into enduring bonds between our nations and peoples.
First of all, neither of our revolutions was expected to succeed. Greek and American freedom fighters were both underdogs, fighting for their freedom and the right to govern themselves against much larger and more powerful empires.
Back in 1776, the system of representative democracy that the United States and Greece enjoy today was considered a radical new idea. George Washington, our first president, called the new American republic a “great experiment for promoting human happiness.”
America’s founding fathers were deeply inspired by classical philosophy and the democratic ideals of ancient Athens. And in turn, the Greek Revolution, the very first liberal revolution in Europe, was directly inspired by the success of the American Revolution and our “great experiment.”
As a result, many early Americans felt duty-bound to help Greece reclaim its birthright of democracy. Support for the Greek Revolution spread like wildfire through the United States, bringing Americans together, increasing civic engagement, and inspiring grassroots organizations to deliver our nation’s first foreign aid. The brave American philhellenes, not much older than many of you, came to Greece to fight alongside the Greek people in their struggle for liberation.
In addition, our dedication to the Greek cause strengthened the struggle for liberty and equality at home in the United States, as many American philhellenes later helped to advance the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements in the U.S.
It’s been inspiring for me to take part in the Greek celebrations, including Independence Day, which reminded me so much of the American bicentennial in 1976. March 25 was a moment for Greeks and Americans to reflect on all that our democracies have achieved and to recommit ourselves to the values we cherish most.
The people of the United States and Greece will be forever bound by our passion for democracy and our commitment to uphold individual freedoms and the rule of law. Our nations share a spirit of innovation as well as an appetite for hard work. This innovative spirit will be more important than ever as your generation steps up to tackle the challenges we face today.
You’ll be entering a world that has been forever changed. And the deep inequities that the pandemic has exposed will require your attention and ingenuity. The issues that our countries face, from health security to climate change, will also require deep international cooperation. ACS has given you exactly the skills you need for living in an interconnected world, and we will count on your fresh, global perspectives as we work together to build a better future.
You will be called upon as leaders, changemakers, and problem-solvers, and the world will advance on the strength of your vision and creativity as well as your commitment to our democratic values.
In the spirit of this bicentennial year, and in the tradition of the American philhellenes, I hope you all will fight the good fight, to protect and uphold freedom and equality as you seek solutions that will make this world a better and safer place for everyone.
Happy graduation, Class of 2021. Sygcharityria!