Independence Day at the American Consulate in Florence

Independence Day 2017

Florence, July 3, 2017

(As prepared for delivery)

Welcome to the celebration of 241 years of American independence.

I can’t believe that almost exactly three years ago, I was watching Sarah Morrison give a similar speech.  I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet all of you and to the challenges ahead.  And now, it’s three years later and the circle is complete.  I’d like to start by saying what an incredible honor it has been to serve my country, and be part of your community, for these past three years.  And I’d like to take this moment to take a quick look at all we have achieved together.

  • We have strengthened the safety of our more than 6, 000 American students abroad, who have been welcomed here for generations on generations. We’ve brought Italian and American students together in volunteer projects, participated with Italian law enforcement in briefing thousands of students on safety and security, and built a public-private partnership through the Overseas Security Advisory Committee.
  • We’ve supported three G7 ministerial meetings in this consular district – one which was the first ever cultural ministerial, in an ideal location – Florence. The other two, in Lucca and Bologna, were the first visits of our new secretaries of state and environment to Italy.
  • We’ve worked with local governments and religious institutions to increase dialogue on integrating immigrants and refugees, including funding a grant for a program that combats extremism in prisons, and another which provides Tuscan university students of Arab origin with a specialized civics leadership course.
  • We’ve collaborated with the city of Florence and local groups to show our support for LGBTQ rights.
  • We’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce, Confindustria, the AmCham, and the regions of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna on increasing American investment in the region, and Italian investment in the U.S.
  • We have strengthened our relationship with the Republic of San Marino, signing the historic FATCA agreement and working closely on issues of mutual interest from financial reform to dual taxation to human rights and migration. [acknowledge RSM reps]
  • And we have reinforced the culture and history that bind us together. We held an event promoting the wine of my state of Virginia – in the spirit of Filippo Mazzei, the Tuscan doctor, businessman, and philosopher who sparked Thomas Jefferson’s interest in producing wine at Monticello.  And we’ve renewed the relationship between the Statue of Liberty park and the Church of Santa Croce, whose statue was the inspiration for ours.
  • We have also had opportunities to remember those who made sacrifices for freedom, human rights, and the preservation of cultural heritage. Last year, 50 years after the terrible flood that damaged precious art and literature in Florence and Tuscany, we remembered the American “mud angels” who helped with the recovery – as well as the Italian artisans who came to New Orleans in 2005 to assist after Hurricane Katrina.  Every May we gather at the American Battlefield Memorial Cemetery to honor the thousands of American soldiers who helped liberate Italy in World War II.  And this year we mark a hundred years since America’s entry into World War I.  More than 4.7 million Americans served during The Great War, representing more than 25 percent of the American male population, and more than 100,000 Americans sacrificed their lives in the name of creating a lasting peace.

I am only one in a long chain of Consuls General who have served our country from Florence, and all of us leave a piece of ourselves here when we go.  This city, which over hundreds of years has generated international dialogue, revolutionary art, and controversial philosophy, inspires us all.  If I had to pick one guiding principle of those who have changed history from Florence, I would call it the power of the individual.  And if I had one message to send, it would be that all of us can make a difference.  This is a world where challenges confront us from many directions: economic upheaval, political debate, concern about human rights.  And, as il primo cittadino di Firenze Dario Nardella said in his recent speech, we can’t wait for the government to fix things.  We, as individuals, have to look around us and change what we can – and work together to build the future we want to see for our countries, and for our families.  As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

It’s true that visiting a place is not the same as living in it.  In my 20 years as a diplomat, I’ve had the chance to test that theory in countries from Moldova to Ethiopia.  I arrived in summer 2014 thrilled to be moving to the home of Machiavelli, Dante, and Leonardo, and excited to represent my country in strengthening and deepening our ties with Italy.  And, now that I’m at the end of my three years here in Florence, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to become part of this wonderful city, and the region that surrounds it.  And I know that Ben Wohlauer, who comes to this job with strong experience and much better Italian than mine was, will continue to ensure that both of our countries move forward together.  Thank you and arrivederci.