Good evening. On behalf of all the team of the United States Consulate General, Alexandria, welcome. Each of you honors us with your presence, and we hope you will enjoy the evening.
First off, I would like to take a moment to share that today is Flag Day in the United States. It is an annual observance of the official adoption of the red, white and blue stars and stripes as the symbols on the American flag that is recognized around the world today. We have also brought with us today the flags representing the various States, or Governorates in the United States from where each of our American staff members resides.
Just a brief comment about flags: A flag is many things to many people, but foremost it is associated with what you stand for as a people and as a nation, it represents your ideals. Quite literally, the flag of each nation becomes what the citizens of each country make it.
We are here to honor the anniversary of American Independence.
239 years ago, 56 men stood in a stifling room in the heat of summer and signed their names to a document declaring American independence. They were incredibly brave. Part of this night is about commemorating that courage. They were the underdogs. They bore an enormous burden of responsibility to their people, and they didn’t know if the ragtag Continental Army could prevail in the fight for liberty they had undertaken. Their decision was not calculated. It was not based on their chances of success. It was made on principle, and to this they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
The truth is that signing the Declaration of Independence did not magically create a new nation. Building any country – any democracy – is a slow, sometimes painful, and often messy process. For America, not a single year of the last 239 has been without struggle.
It turns out that the only thing more challenging than establishing a new democracy is maintaining it. Doing so was not uniquely – or even primarily – the work of a small group of elites. It was, and still is, the work of millions of ordinary people. President Obama has recently commented in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month that “….One of the remarkable things about America is that nearly all of our families originally came from someplace else. We’re a nation of immigrants. It’s a source of our strength & something we all can take pride in.” Just as the stars on our flag represent each State of our union, they could just as easily be representative of all the different peoples, their religions, ideals and hopes that weave the great tapestry that is the history of our nation, a nation united under one flag.
Our celebration tonight belongs to every American who lives his life in faithful service to the code of our society enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. People who speak their minds but equally and rush to defend the right of those with whom they disagree to ensure their voices are heard as well. People who live by an unflinching commitment to give their children better than they themselves received. These are the men and women to whom we owe our nationhood. And we celebrate them tonight, too.
We celebrate by doing what we are doing tonight – gathering together with friends, sharing what we think about the present and what we hope for the future. We don’t even call this freedom of assembly or freedom of expression – because of those who came before us, we just call it living. We call it life.
This is my first Independence Day in Alexandria, and I am both proud and grateful to be celebrating with so many wonderful people who have contributed to my country through their engagement with the Consulate.
We in fact, are not just celebrating with you – we are celebrating you. Thank you for the warmth of your welcome and for sharing the spirit of openness with us. Every day, your cooperation, your ideas, every part of your lives that you share with us provides to us the opportunity to create a greater understanding that will bring both our nations closer together. Governments are in the end made up of people, and it is the people who will make any country better.
This is your night, too. So on behalf of the Consulate of the United States of America, happy Independence Day!