Independence Day Remarks 2015

FOTO: PETER MOSIMANN, 2. 7. 2015 BERN BE: Event Embassy of the United States Bern, Switzerland

Excellencies, Ambassador Guex, Ambassador Frick, Ambassador Hamamoto and Ambassador Wood from the United States Mission Geneva; Damen und Herren, Grüssich Mittenand, Welcome!

It is such a pleasure to look out and see all of you here and to have you celebrate the birthday of the United States of America with us!

Before I go into my remarks, I’d like to thank three groups of people.

1) Our incredible sponsors – All of whose names you can see on the boards around the yard and in your programs. Without them, we simply couldn’t do this – Thank you!

2) My consular team – This team ensures the safety of our borders and often provides the first experience many people have with the United States – and they know that first impressions matter! They have done a tremendous job improving the customer experience, reducing wait times, and even helping people get through the border and customs more quickly at US airports. In collaboration with many of you, they also take care of those who have suffered from accidents, illnesses and misfortunes during their time here in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Since most of the work they do on that front is confidential and private, I can’t share specific examples, but I will share that I am humbled by the grace and care with which they treat families in their time of greatest vulnerability and need. Thank you!

3) My whole Embassy Team – I may be up here – but everything that we have accomplished and will take on in the future is a result of their incredible dedication, creativity, thoughtfulness, and heart. They are truly the greatest Embassy team in the whole world. From the bottom, top, left and right of my heart – THANK YOU for all that you do, day in and day out, to positively impact the United States, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, AND the whole world!

Now – why are we here?!

On June 7th, 1776, a committee, led by Thomas Jefferson, was created to draft a declaration of independence. 22 days later, the draft was done and then on July 4, 1776, the final text was adopted by the original 13 colonies who came together in Philadelphia to declare their independence.

This magnificent text may have been penned speedily, but it was also penned mightily – especially when you consider lines like this one:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”…

Other than expanding it from just men to include women, that line has stood the test of time and is as relevant today as it ever was – in nations across the globe. I guess that’s what happens when your main writer is Thomas Jefferson and the editors are Ben Franklin and John Adams.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That line is what, of course, set the foundation for our United States Constitution – which was subsequently the basis for the Swiss Constitution. It also serves as the ultimate vision statement for the work we do as governments.

But our work as democratic republics, as beacons of hope and aspiration for people and nations around the world, did not end 239 years ago. In fact, one could argue that the set of challenges and opportunities we face today is far larger, and far more critical to the fate of humanity, than ever before. And in our increasingly interconnected world, we, as Sister Republics, need to address those opportunities and challenges together now more than ever.

So the ultimate question for us is: what are we doing now to pursue that vision and to help our citizens, as well as the global community, achieve those inalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, which our forbearers helped identify not just for us, but for all people?

Over the past 2 weeks, the United States – and especially the Supreme Court – have really been doing a lot to advance that vision.

But let me also share with you just a few stories from my time in Switzerland that demonstrate what we are doing together here towards that vision. Because while those of us standing here today in Bern may hold those truths of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness to be self-evident, they are not yet reality for many people around the world.

1) First – a story about apprenticeship (one of my favorite topics). I met Christian accidentally during a visit to his company in January. Just after the first-ever bilateral White House CEO Roundtable, at which several companies committed to starting and/or expanding their apprenticeship programs in the US, I had apprenticeship on my mind when I went on a company visit to Firmenich. So, when I asked whether they had an apprenticeship program, their executive team lit up and they said “you have to meet Christian”. Before I knew it, this man in a white lab coat walked in with a bit of a perplexed look on his face.  When the other folks from the company told him of my interest in apprenticeship, his look changed immediately to an inspired look.  He shared his story– he started as a ne’er do well who didn’t really like school and who was heading towards failure. But then he began an apprenticeship at Firmenich that imbued him with responsibility, maturity, and knowledge. He discovered his love and ability in chemistry and subsequently went all the way up through getting a PhD– all while still working at Firmenich – and ultimately rising to become the senior scientist there. And now, not only is he improving the balance sheet of the company, he’s improving the balance sheet of the world because he’s presiding over a project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to decrease disease by improving the smell and, therefore the usage of sanitation systems. And not only does Christian’s work in promoting sanitation systems promote health – and therefore life – I have no doubt that the results of his work will make many people who have to use public bathrooms a whole lot happier.

What I learned from this and the many other visits, conversations and presentations on the Swiss Apprenticeship model was that the Path to Success has many beginnings – and not all of them start with University – or even gymnasium. Frankly – I believe that apprenticeship and the adaptation of the Swiss model will fundamentally help enable millions of Americans to have access to a better life and to better pursue their happiness. I also believe that applies around the globe with vocational education and training systems.

2) Next – a story about addressing violent extremism. It was 7am on the Friday of the World Economic Forum in Davos. An organization called GCERF – the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund – was hosting a breakfast conversation on the daunting challenge we face of addressing the growth of violent extremism. And even though we were all exhausted from an all-nighter the night before, I remember like it was this morning when Edit Schlaffer from Women without Borders described a focus group she had with the mothers of foreign fighters. She shared that these women with whom she met were surprised that their children would make these choices, but that, in hindsight, they could identify the moments when their children started to change. And then she described what sounded like an incredible scene.  Right in the middle of the meeting, these mothers took out their cell phones and started comparing texts from their sons and daughters – their babies!

President Obama looks at addressing violent extremism in three phases: the short term where you need to counter and attack the terrorists, the medium term – where you need to keep people from traveling to these volatile areas – and the long term – where you need to keep young people from being seduced by the empty promise of violence. When Edit shared this image of this group of mothers wanting to do something so that future groups of mothers don’t have this same situation, it really hit home – especially since I’m a mother – how important it is to not just counter violent extremism – but to prevent it. I believe that our collaboration with the Swiss and other countries to support the grassroots efforts that GCERF will be funding will be profound in its long-term impact on preventing violent extremism and it seems to me that our ability to deal effectively with this problem gets to the very heart of the rights and liberties our founding fathers – and so many other great thinkers – envisioned.

3) Last, but not least – two short stories about openness and values. One of my favorite things to do is to meet with groups of students, some of whom are here today – welcome! And thank you for taking time out of your summer break to be here! In February, I visited Gymnasium Oberaargau. We planned an assembly with the students including a question and answer session. So that I could be prepared, the students submitted a long list of questions in advance, most of which were questions like “ how do you spend your time when you’re not working?” and “What’s your favorite part of the job?” So, when we were in the assembly and the different students from each class had the opportunity to ask their questions, imagine my surprise when the ones that they had REALLY prepared were about topics such as Guantanamo, racism in America, and privacy versus security. I LOVED how much they demonstrated how tuned in they are and how much they care about the future we’re leaving them. I thanked them deeply for their thoughtful questions – and we had, I believe, an important discussion on those and other topics. For example, we discussed the administration’s success at reducing the number of inmates in Guantanamo, that our country is a work in progress – always pursuing a more perfect union, and that the debate between security and privacy is an important one encouraged by the administration. These conversations are critical for increasing understanding between our countries!

Another example on values and openness comes from just a couple of weeks ago and is particularly relevant in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to make same-sex marriage a right nationwide. Just after my speech at the Zürich Pride Parade, before we started marching, a man, who had clearly seen a lot in his long lifetime, came up to me and, with a quiver of emotion in his voice, he grasped my hand in both of his, looked me in the eye and thanked me for standing with him and others to emphasize that LGBT rights are human rights. These encounters with students and LGBT advocates brought home the fact that we can’t take our or anyone’s right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for granted!

This time last year, I shared broad priorities of growing our economic ties, increasing our collaboration around security and development, and increasing our appreciation of our respective cultures, values and policies – all in partnership with you. And that’s just what we have done this year.

And, as President Obama recently said, our “Progress is real and we have to take hope from that progress, but the march isn’t over. <We> need to figure out in concrete ways what more can we do.”

So a few global areas ripe for increased collaboration/coordination between the United States and Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the coming year:

  • Youth unemployment. And delivering meaning and purpose through productivity in the US and around the globe
  • Climate Change. And our respective countries leading the world in developing and fostering renewable and sustainable solutions in order to reverse the effects of climate change – especially in advance of the COP-21 discussions in Paris this winter.
  • Technology and innovation: And working together to develop, nurture, and promote the technologies of tomorrow.

To meet the challenge and pursue the vision of helping people around the world enjoy the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we need to work together with purpose and without delay.

It’s not an easy task but an old proverb I recently heard put it best by sharing that “A sailor is not made by sunshine, he or she is made by the storm.”

And together – zusammen, ensemble – there’s absolutely nothing that will stand in our way

Thank you all, again, and Happy Independence Day!