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Transcript of President Clinton's Remarks
at the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards

Tuesday night June 13, 2000 in Washington, D.C.

JAMES ZOGBY: Thank you Kerry. You honor us by allowing us to honor you and the memory of your father. I want to thank everyone who is here tonight for making this an exceptional evening. But it's about to get to be a little bit more exceptional.

There is no person who I believe better defines the spirit of this night and the spirit of what we are trying to do in honoring, in the name of Kahlil Gibran, those who make the commitment to diversity and tolerance, those who make the commitment to the struggle for human rights and peace, than the man I'm about to introduce to you. His commitment to helping to build One America inspired me and inspired so many of us to put aside preconceived notions and prejudices, and to work to begin a dialogue about what the spirit and essence of America was all about.

He took that very essence of that message of One America and tolerance and diversity and translated it into a foreign policy that helped us to understand in a better way ourselves, but also to understand what is going on in Northern Ireland, what is going on in the Middle East, what was going on in Kosovo, and to make a commitment to take the value of One America and to make it not only our goal to become a better country, but also to be the essence of what our foreign policy was. And so it is with great pleasure, a deep honor of mine to introduce to you tonight a man who has taught me and taught all of us so much, and given us seven and a half wonderful years, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Thank you, Thank you very much. Hi John. Thank you. Thank you. Senator Abraham, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. When I came tonight, I told Jim, I said 'you know, for a moment I felt terribly insecure because I'm so underdressed.' Then I said to myself, 'what the heck, I'm not running for anything.'

I would like to say I'm delighted to see Senator Robb, Senator Abraham. The members of the House are voting or they would be here. I want to thank you all for making me feel so welcome and I'd like to say a special word of appreciation for the awardees. Focus: Hope in Detroit, a project I know quite a bit about, Fannie Mae, the Aga Khan Foundation, St. Jude's Hospital, and especially, I got here in time to hear the end of Kerry's speech for the Robert Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and I thank you for recognizing them.

I also came here primarily because I thought it might be, perhaps, the last great chance I would have to thank the Arab American community for the contributions that you have made to the progress of America and the strength and diversity of our Administration over the last seven and a half years.

I also told Jim Zogby on the way in, I probably shouldn't say all this but we know each other so well now for so long, we feel freer to say things that we might not otherwise say. I said, 'Jim, I'm going to quote Kahlil Gibran tonight for the first time since I was in college.' And I said 'I'm very glad you named this award after him. Another way of smashing stereotypes.' But Gibran said...yeah, you can clap for that. That's really true, yeah. But this is my favorite Gibran quote. 'All work is empty save when there is love. When you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.'

That's what this whole effort to build One America is to me and the effort to build a world where peace and reconciliation and freedom and prosperity overcome the forces of fear and hatred and poverty and disease and war. So I thank you for your contributions to building that kind of America. And for helping America to be a better citizen in building that kind of world. So many of you have contributed to our efforts to build a lasting and just peace in the Middle East to build strong and trusting relationships with people who previously questioned the United States.

I was honored to be the first President to address the Palestinian National Council in Gaza. I traveled to Syria to meet with President Assad and met with him several times. And again I want to extend my deepest condolences to his family and to the people of Syria. They had their memorial service today. Secretary Albright represented us. And we wish them well and we hope that we can resume our relationship and the work for peace. (applause) I was... I was honored to represent the United States at the funeral of my friend King Hassan of Morocco and at the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan and to walk, in both cases, behind the funeral train and the coffins of two men who had become my friends in the search for peace.

In a larger sense I am very glad that all of you who have been involved with me have helped us to stand for tolerance not only in Bosnia, and Kosovo and the Middle East, but in Northern Ireland and in Africa and in every other place where people are threatened.

I thank those of you who were involved in giving me the chance to be the first President to celebrate the end of Ramadan at the White House, to discuss with Arab American leaders the challenges facing your community. I thank those of you who participated with me and with President Mubarak of Egypt in the meeting we had with Arab American leaders at the White House. It was fascinating to me, to hear those of you who were there having the conversation you had with him. And not only the friendly and suggestive ones, but the challenging ones. I felt quite comforted that I was not the only President you had challenged over the years, and I thank you for that.

I thank you for the contributions so many of you have made to the astonishing prosperity of the United States. I look out here and I see many of you whom I know who started with nothing and rose to the leadership of great corporations, built your own businesses, gave people of different backgrounds and different faiths a chance to make a living because of your own industry and enterprise. And for all that, I am very grateful. And I leave you with just this thought on that subject. I think sometimes in the life of a person, a family, a business, or a nation, what you do with the good times can be just as stern a test of your character and judgement as what you do with adversity. When I began this journey back in 1992, the country was in so much trouble, you didn't have to be a genius to know that somebody had to do something to change things. And when I think... I used to laugh whenever I was so naïve in the way of national politics. President Bush used to refer to me as the governor of a small southern state, and I was so naïve I thought it was a compliment. And after all these years, I still do.

But I say that just to make this point. No one in this audience tonight who is over thirty can fail to remember at least on instance in your life when you made a mistake not because things were so tough, but because things were going so well you thought there was no penalty to the failure to concentrate. And we have all lived long enough now to know that nothing lasts forever. No adversity lasts forever, thank goodness, but neither do all the good things last forever. It is part of the human condition.

And so I submit to you that all of us will be judged now by what we do with this moment and whether we move to the big challenges facing the country, whether we embrace them with energy and conviction and really imagine the future we would like to build for our children and then make decisions accordingly. Because, at least in my lifetime, no previous generation of Americans has ever had the luxury, the responsibility, or the difficulty of making that choice, under these circumstances.

I have done my best to lead the country in a position to make those choices, and I fervently hope and pray we will make the right ones. If I were given only one wish, however, as Jim said in his introduction for me it would be easy. I would not wish for America's prosperity. I would not wish for the vanquishing of all America's enemies. I would wish that we could build One America in our hearts. Because I believe when people learn to cherish their own traditions, to enjoy their differences they have with other people but to be absolutely convicted about the fact that the most important fact of life on this earth is our common humanity, all the rest, more or less, falls into place.

We've got a long way to go. We've all made our mistakes along the way, including me. But we're making progress. And if you keep working, we'll get there a lot sooner. Thank you, and God bless you all.