Meets With Boston Marathon Winner and Staff and Families of Embassy Addis Ababa

Press Release

By:  John Kerry
Date: May 26, 2013
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: Let me, first of all, welcome each of you here. We gather for a number of occasions. One is to remember those persons who lost their lives in Boston and those who were damaged by the events in Boston. We've also come to celebrate the resilience of the Boston spirit and the resilience of the American spirit to move forward. And we've come to give thanks for the many people around the world who responded to the citizens of the U.S. with such warm-heartedness.

At this moment, I would ask all of us to take a moment of silence in remembrance of those whose lives were lost in Boston.

(Moment of silence observed.)

It is my singular honor to present to all of us the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Secretary Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you very much, Ambassador Battle. Michael, thank you for your wonderful service and thank you for being there to help me in 2004. I think you should have worked harder. (Laughter.) No.

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: My wife should have given me (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Just kidding. (Laughter.) And I'm delighted -- I thank Linda Ann for her service too.

And it's a great privilege to be here at Embassy Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. And I'm so pleased to be here with Ambassador Don Booth and his wife Anita, who will do a great job at leading the Embassy. He is an old hand at all of this, having been in Zambia, Liberia, other areas, other embassies through the years. But he's one of our career Foreign Service treasures, and we're delighted to have his stewardship at this Embassy. Thank you.

And thank you to all of you. It's really a great privilege for me to be here, and I am so pleased to see a number of Red Sox fans out there. (Cheering and applause.) Young man over there, what's your name? What's his name?

PARTICIPANT: Aiden.

SECRETARY KERRY: Aiden. Well, Aiden, you've got great taste in hats. Good job. (Laughter.) I'm happy to see you here though.

And I want you all to know, if you don't know -- none of you follows hockey here I know -- but the Bruins won last night. (Cheering and applause.) So now they're going to have to go play Pittsburgh, and that's a real problem for me, because my wife comes from Pittsburgh. (Laughter.) So we try to work it out. I swear, I promise you, when the Steelers fenced off against the Patriots and we went to the game, I had to spend half the game in -- on the Pittsburgh side and then half the game on the other side. But we won. That's what was important.

So we are honored today -- we really are honored today by the presence of these extraordinary athletes. And I want to thank all of you for the moment of silence on behalf of Boston. We are so grateful for the incredible outpourings of help and sympathy, condolences, good spirits of everybody who are with us. But frankly, very few things could be as meaningful as these competitors, each of whom was running in that marathon, one of whom in the men's division crossed the line first and won this historic race, Lelisa, and his compatriot -- I think I'm correct -- Gebre, who crossed the line third in one of the closest finishes in recent memory with the second person just seconds ahead. It was a duel right into the finish and an extraordinarily close race. And then of course, Meseret Hailu, who came in second and who represents an extraordinary strain of Ethiopian women runners. I will tell you, since 19 -- I think it's about 1989, four Ethiopian men have crossed the line first, but since 2000 -- I don't know -- I think it's something like 2000 -- or maybe just (inaudible) 1998, five women from Ethiopia have crossed the line first. So men, you (inaudible). (Applause.)

I just want to share with you how special it is. Lelisa Desisa, who won this race and writes himself into the history books of the Boston Marathon, joins an incredible group of runners in history. This is a race that began in 1897, I think it is, and it has always been run on Patriot's Day, Patriot's Day. And there's traditionally a Red Sox game, people come out of the Red Sox game finishes, they watch the finishing of the marathon. And it's an incredible event. Everybody comes with this great sense of community and spirit of competition. People from 26 countries together come in order to compete. An extraordinary (inaudible) of runners, including the ones who entered legally because they are qualified, and then this group of people we call the bandits, who run because they haven't qualified. And I have to confess, I was one of those once. (Laughter.) And I think I plodded across the line in about three hours -- I think it was three hours and 33 minutes or 32 minutes. Wow. You say wow. I heard all this cheering as I was running down Wilson Street, coming to the end, and I said, "Boy, that's really nice." And then I turned to my left and there's 70-year-old John Kelley running beside me, about to cross the line. (Laughter.) So I was happy to be there, happy to be there.

But the gesture that Lelisa's making today is absolutely extraordinary. In a gesture of solidarity, these runners have come here today to pay their respects to Boston, to the injured, to the marathon itself. And I'm so honored that Lelisa has decided that he is going to give his winner's medal to the City of Boston to honor all those who were injured and killed, and most of all, who are getting better. (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.)

It's an extraordinary gesture, and I want you all to know -- I think I'm correct on this -- he's 23 years old. Is that correct?

PARTICIPANT: Yeah.

SECRETARY KERRY: And this is only the second time he's ever run that distance. That's (inaudible). (Applause.)

So let me just say to all of you who serve here -- I don't want to tie you up too long -- I don't want to (inaudible) productivity in State Department here -- (laughter) -- I'm really honored that these kids have come out. Thank you, all of you. Are you missing school? No. Okay. (Laughter.) That's right, it's Sunday. I've forgotten what day it is. (Laughter.) This is what happens on the road. If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium. I got to learn to ask. (Laughter.)

I cannot thank you enough for all of you for what you do. And I hope you receive that with all of the authenticity with which I say it. It's hard to pack up and leave families and leave communities. It's hard if you're locally employed. Sometimes people say, "Why are you working for them?" And you have to defend things that aren't necessarily your own. It's always complicated to be part of representing a different culture, a different way of life, a different set of values in another place. And yet you love it. You do it because you are committed to it.

And this is a great family, the State Department. It's a wonderful thing to be a part of. I can't think -- and I had worked those 29 years as a United States senator; I was very lucky. And every day that I got up I was lucky to get up and feel excited about going to work because I deal with any number of different issues. But not everybody is blessed to feel that way about their work, and you know that.

This work is exciting, because you are reaching out and helping other people, because you're helping to change the world, because you're building bridges across cultures and across divides. You're helping people to understand each other. You're helping people to develop. You're helping them to reach their full aspirations and the full aspirations of any human being in life. And you are helping our country to explain ourselves and to build relationships that hopefully can bring peace and stability to the world. You are saving lives.

PEPFAR. We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR. And today for the first time in history, there's a generation that is able to look at the future to be AIDS-free because of the work that PEPFAR has done. It's an extraordinary story, and the United States of America, all of our citizens, should be proud of the literally 5 to 6 million people whose lives we have saved and the next generation that will be AIDS-free. One of the great stories of all time, and Americans I know are proud of that.

In addition to that, we are witnessing an Africa that is such a moment of exciting transformation. We just celebrated 50 years of the AU, African Union, 50 years which came, as I reminded some people last night at the dinner -- my wife was born in Mozambique and my wife was part of an old Africa, and she didn't have any choice, obviously, because she was born there. But she grew up with a passion for Africa. Her native tongue became Portuguese and she grew up in what was -- what is now Maputo. She went to university in -- at Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and prior to that went to a small girl's school in Durban. And she knows Africa. She used to go out with her doctor father into the bush while he made rounds, helping people to live and to cure problems. So she's always talked to me with passion about Africa. I'm proud to say that when she was a student at Witwatersrand, she marched against apartheid, believing, all of them, that they might wind up in jail, a very difficult time. We have since -- we visited the south and come to other parts of Africa on occasion.

But what you're doing is taking part in this amazing transformation, the new Africa. Six of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world are here on the continent in Africa. And over the next 20 to 30 years, 100 million young people, who will be needing to go to school, an additional 100 million. Africa in the next 35 years will represent 40 percent of the world's workforce, and it will have the greatest percentage of young people of any nation on the planet. This is both a challenge but also a huge opportunity.

So we have our work cut out for us, and the 200 of you who are U.S. what we call direct hire, people who represent the Foreign Service or the civil service of even here for some temporary duty or politically appointed or those of you who are locally hired -- 1,000 of you -- we couldn't do the work we do without those of you from Ethiopia or from a third nation who come here and work with us.

So I simply want to come here today to say to all of you, on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of the United States of America, and on my behalf as the leader of the State Department, it's my privilege to call you colleagues. If you will continue to do the outstanding work that you do, I promise you we will do everything we can from good old Foggy Bottom bureaucracy to make sure we simplify things and make things happen for you.

So God bless you all. Thank you very, very much. It's an honor to be here. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. DESISA: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone. It is a great honor that I stand before you today. And I thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to come and pay tribute to the victims of Boston of this year.

This year, I competed in and I won the 117th running of the historic Boston Marathon. Yet less than two hours after I had crossed the finish line as this year's champion, my joy turned to sorrow as I learned the tragic news of the death and the injury to so many innocent people. This day brought pain to many families and tremendous sorrow into many homes.

As a gesture of my solidarity with the victims of this senseless act of violence, I will return to Boston and gift my medal to the people of Boston in honor and in memory of those who suffered and those who died on that day, like eight-year-old Martin Richard. (Applause.)

My message to all of you this morning is that sport should always be a source of pleasure and enjoyment, healthy recreation, positive competition. Sport holds the power to unify people and to connect people from all over the world with one another, allowing them the opportunity to share in their common humanity and to celebrate the richness of our world's cultural diversity. Sport should never be used as a battleground.

On behalf of my fellow citizens of Ethiopia, on behalf of my entire team, my coach, my manager, my fellow teammates, we commit ourselves to sport and we promise that next year in 2014 we will return to Boston to show the world that our commitment to sport, our commitment to our freedom, is stronger than any act of violence. (Applause.)

My heartfelt condolences go out to the families of all those that lost loved ones on that day. My wish is to all those that are injured that they recover fully and quickly. I thank you again for allowing me this opportunity this morning. I don't have the words to express all that is in my heart, but with love and respect, I thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Ato Lelisa, Ato Gebre, and Woyzero Meseret, I really want to thank you for coming to the U.S. Embassy today. Having completed four marathons myself, albeit at somewhat slower pace than you did yours -- (laughter) -- I'm really in awe of your accomplishments. So thank you again for coming. (Applause.) And now ladies and gentlemen, U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa, the U.S. Mission to the African Union, and your families, I think Secretary Kerry, you will --

SECRETARY KERRY: I want to say hello.

AMBASSADOR BOOTH -- will want to go down and say hello. So please stay where you are. After the Secretary has finished mingling, if you could all stay here so that we can get the official party out of the building. So thank you very much for coming today. I'm sorry that so many of our colleagues have to be working at other locations and aren't able to join us. But thank you all for coming. (Applause.)