Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
October 6, 2017
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Please be seated, thank you. And good afternoon, everyone. It really is a privilege for me to be here with you today for a very special milestone event for all of you, for your family members, your friends. And I’m so pleased to see many of them here to share this with you.
This is truly an impressive group of people. And I want you to think about other impressive people you know out there and help bring them into this family as well. Because I know all of you have a great network of other talent, as well. This class includes former pilots, professors, law clerks, investigators, and a number of other professions, which gives us a rich diversity of skills coming into this Department to help us.
The overwhelming majority of this class has spent significant time working, studying, or volunteering abroad. So being abroad is not going to be new to you. And many of you are coming to the Department with prior government experience already, including Peace Corps service and service in our military. And importantly, some of you come with incredibly skilled languages, which are important to us: Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Maltese, Farsi and Slovak. Thank you. Thank you. Those are terribly important to us.
We are all grateful, truly grateful, that you have decided to use your skills to serve the United States and this Department.
And obviously, like hundreds of others that have gone before you, we require a constant stream of fresh talent. You will learn from those more experienced Foreign Service officers that you’ll have the opportunity to work with, but it’s your fresh eyes to things, your fresh energy that are really important to the vitality of what we do.
In particular, this group of foreign specialists in many ways represent our first responders in the face of security, health, and logistical challenges. And the entire country is appreciative of your willingness to serve and your dedication to be ready to take action.
It is an honor to officially welcome all of your family, friends, and others to the State Department, as well, and with it a profession – and welcome you to a profession that offers a future of opportunities to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy interests the world over.
This time last week I was on my way to Beijing in preparation for the President’s upcoming summit in Beijing and his trip to Asia. And all the way along that trip I had very capable and important Foreign Service officers helping me, some with some difficult logistics, in fact, on that trip. It was kind of exciting to land in Beijing on a C-130. That was not the aircraft of choice, but it was the aircraft that we were able to find to go on in to the country. But the Foreign Service officers and the support you provide, not just to the Secretary’s office, but to our missions, our embassies around the world, our bureaus, it’s just vital to our ability to deliver on our mission, day in and day out.
We need your dedication, we need your expertise, we need your energy. So again, thank you for your willingness to take on this hard work. I know you’ve worked hard to get to this point. In many respects, though, that work is just beginning, and I know you’re well aware of that.
So I want to offer just a few brief words of counsel to you as you begin.
First, remember that it doesn’t matter what your title or your job is; what matters is how you do it and how you work with the colleagues around you. This group represents, as I said, a variety of skills and talents that the Department requires to function properly, from managing our properties to protecting all of us, to keeping us healthy. So no matter the task, I know you will aim for excellence.
Second, I encourage you to fight complacency. It’s very easy in many of the tasks we face to just say, “You know, I’m just not going to move the needle, so I’ll just – I’ll get through this and I’ll move to the next opportunity.” Never accept that. Never accept that. There is an opportunity in each one of these challenges to move the needle, and you will move the needle with your perseverance and your dedication.
The other aspect is never conclude that you’ve finished growing. I’m still learning, even at this ripe old age. I learn something every day. Learn from the people around you. This is an institution with enormously rich talent and experience. Please soak that up and never stop growing in your assignment and what you’re doing. Every assignment you take, every location, you’re going to grow and continue to grow, and you’re not going to stop growing until the day you leave and go on to other things.
The second part of that, I want to mention the redesign efforts of the Department that are going on are a clear example of how we want to work as a team to reshape the State Department to improve how we deliver on mission here at the Department as well as USAID. All of your colleagues – and you will learn as you go to work in your assignments – know what we can do to improve the ability to deliver on mission. What are the obstacles we need to clear? What are the systems we need to change or adjust? How can we make it easier for people to fulfill their responsibilities, and also to fulfill them more effectively?
So don’t be afraid to share your ideas with us. We have portals that are open. We are getting terrific input from people throughout the Department. We have teams that are tasked with addressing these ideas. Please share your creativity, your innovative ideas with us, as well. Again, you’re coming with fresh eyes. You’re probably going to see some things that a lot of people that have been here for a while may be looking right past, so encourage you to be an active participant in this undertaking.
Third, please embrace and bolster a culture of personal accountability, honesty, and respect for others. These are tenets that I put in place the day I came into this office and spoke to the entire organization. It’s how we want to treat each other with that respect, how we want to treat each other in an honest fashion. If we’re honest with one another, we’ll be honest with the people we’re delivering the mission to, countries around the world. And finally, we have to hold ourselves accountable. We can’t hold others accountable if we’re not holding ourselves accountable first.
This organization’s best asset and greatest strength is truly its people. It really is the people. It’s not about the size of our budget. It’s not about the size of our infrastructure. It’s not about anything. It’s about: Do we have the right people? If we’ve got the right people, we will deliver on the mission with whatever tools we’re given. I am quite confident of that.
So value one another, cherish one another, take care of one another. This is required of all of us. So again, we can do that by committing ourselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.
So as you now prepare to take the Oath of Office, and as your family, friends, and colleagues bear witness to it, remember the special solemn nature of this Oath. The Oath you’re about to take, it’s an important part of our nation’s history, and you’re about to make it an important part of your history that is yet to be written.
The United States Congress prescribed the Oath as one of its first legislative acts over two centuries ago – establishing a bond between the American people and those who serve them.
The Oath you are about to take is the same Oath of Office all of our colleagues have taken, myself included, as well as the Vice President, federal judges, Members of Congress, military officers, and all cabinet members.
So now I would invite all 61 members of the 146th Foreign Service Specialist Orientation Class to join me on the stage, and I’ll administer the Oath of Office.
That is a fine-looking group of people. Someone should take a picture. Oh, we are. (Laughter.) Okay, good, all right.
Please raise your right hand and repeat after me.
(The Oath of Office was administered.)
It’s my honor to be the first to congratulate each of you, as members of the 146th Foreign Service Specialist Orientation Class. Please join me in honoring them. (Applause.)
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