Pelosi Remarks Upon Accepting the JFK Profile in Courage Award

John Boehner

Boston – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks upon accepting the JFK Profile in Courage Award.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  I just said to the Schlossbergs, ‘I don’t see any reason for me to make a speech right now.’  All those beautiful things – I accept the compliments on behalf of all of my colleagues in the House of Representatives who made all of our accomplishments possible with their courage.

Before acknowledging and thanking the family, for those who have been part of my journey to this moment too, I must first pay tribute to the President who inspired this award.

When we think back across the best and hardest passages of the past half century, we not only remember the singular presence of John F. Kennedy, but we can see as if it were only yesterday, how the patriotism, brilliance, self-deprecating wit and the natural grace he symbolized and conveyed truly did captivate and inspire our country and the world.  How he renewed our public life and the very definition of America itself.

Our presence now, here this evening, and this ceremony this year, inevitably and pre-eminently celebrates and honors him.

That I too am honored with this award is something I accept with a full and humble heart.  So, thank you, Jack, and Ambassador Kennedy.

Jack, you don’t just share your grandfather’s name but his commitment to public service at its best as a noble profession.  I love what your mother had to say about you.  It makes us so proud to see you.

Caroline, how proud your mother and father would be to have seen the dignity with which you represented the United States in Japan.  To witness that glorious day when the people of Tokyo flooded the streets – flooded the streets – to witness you, to watch you travel by chariot – not chariot – what is it?  A carriage.  Travel by carriage present your credentials to the Emperor of Japan, to witness America’s great compliment to Japan.


Thank you to Ed, Tatiana and Rose for being your own manifestations of excellence in everything that you do.

Thank you, Ron Sargent for being such an important leader of the foundation and regaling us this evening with the goals of the foundation but also the participation of so many in your important work and that is an applause line.


And to Tom Kennedy, for your leadership, and for welcoming us to this extraordinary place.  Let me express as well, but also thank you to Raytheon for helping us honor our oath to protect and defend the Constitution of United States.  Thank you for your extraordinary leadership.

Let me express my abiding gratitude to the Profile in Courage Award Committee.  I think they really did a good job!


I am now in my new mode of not being the modest woman in politics but I think they did a good job.  I am happy about it.


I want to extend my congratulations to Elazar Cramer for being selected as the 2019 Profile in Courage Essay Winner!


A beautiful, beautiful essay and he wrote about one of the first women to serve in Congress, one of the first six women and she was the Chair of the Veteran Affairs Committee.

It is joy to share this celebration with those in my family who are my foundation and my heart: my husband Paul; husband of 55 years, our children Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul, and Alexandra;

Our grandchildren, Madeleine, Alexander, Paul and Thomas; our other grandchildren, busy with their studies and exams but here in spirit, Liam, Sean, Ryan, Bella and Octavio.  And also our sons-in-law who are here, Jeff and Mihiel.

Also like family to me are Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senator Chris Dodd.  They have been friends long before any of us were in Congress and I am so honored that they are here with us tonight.


I am pleased to be joined here by so many Members of my official family in the Congress.  We are joined by present and former Members from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Texas, California, Maryland, and when I include former Members of Congress, I am including Secretary of State, John Kerry is a former Member of Congress.


And including Congressman Joe Kennedy, who eloquently enacts in his generation, the Kennedy commitment to be a voice for the voiceless.  Joe Kennedy.


The Kennedy family has given so much to America’s history and to America’s future.

We remain in awe of the courage that is the Kennedy constant: their courage to accept the best and the saddest that God’s will has descended upon them and their courage to be a model of faith and hope.

Caroline, I especially remain inspired by the courage of your grandmother Rose, your mother Jacqueline – especially on this day – and by your courage, Madame Ambassador.


Officially, I prize the distinction of being associated with past recipients, who over three decades have been recognized for embodying that ‘most admirable of human virtues: courage.’

There are many who have been honored in the Congress of the United States.  But one whose courage some of us saw close-up and personal among, among this legion of honor was my friend, the late Congressman Jack Murtha, a proud defense hawk, a defense hawk who was recognized for his courage to speak out publicly against the war in Iraq.

Before him came the peacemakers of Northern Ireland – John Hume and George Mitchell.  Last month, while in Ireland – I brought a delegation, Richie Neal was the head of our delegation – on the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Accords.


I was privileged to address the Dáil, the Parliament, the Irish Parliament, where I invoked the words that President Kennedy spoke in that very chamber in the summer of 1963.  This is what he said, ‘The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.’  Just think of those words, how wise they are, and what appropriate guidance they are for this time.  Let me repeat them.  He said, ‘The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.’  An imperative for us to do the right thing.

Now, I want to express my gratitude in personal terms as to what this award means to me.  When I was a girl in Catholic school in Baltimore, the Irish nuns from Boston would always sing always the praises of the Kennedy family.  This was a long time ago.  In grade school, it was they who introduced us to the book ‘Profiles in Courage’, which had such an impact on me, and on my generation.

In high school, I had the privilege to meet Senator Kennedy when he came to Baltimore.  My father was the Mayor, and I got to sit at the head table.  Everyone was dazzled by his brilliance.

In college, I attended his inauguration and, on that freezing, thrilling day, heard his electrifying call to public service.

Never did I suspect then that, as House Democratic Leader, I would participate in a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of his inauguration by hearing his voice reverberate through the Rotunda with that beautiful inaugural address.

And never did I expect that, as Speaker of the House, I would be given the Profile in Courage Award.

Profile in Courage.  Courage is in the DNA of America: courage, and the optimism and hope that go with it, which are the shaping spirits of the American experience.

President Kennedy had the courage, optimism and hope when he pledged to America that we would land on the moon before the decade was out.  Imagine the courage.

When President Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon in his speech at Rice, he spoke words that, today, are our constant inspiration.  My colleagues will recognize that because they are on the first page on all of our innovation initiatives.

He said, ‘The vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we in this nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first.  In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require that we make this effort.’

Today, these words are the preamble to our innovation agendas and our constant motivation to address the urgency of the climate crisis, which is the challenge of our day.  President Kennedy knew that America’s success in that venture would take us beyond the moon.  It would solve problems here on earth, as well.

Courage in the DNA of America, it was in the DNA of our Founders.  It was manifested when they declared independence premised on equality, it was the first time any nation had done that before.  When they declared, waged and won a war against the strongest naval power that existed at the time.  And when they declared not only a new nation but a ‘new order for the ages’ – which they inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States: ‘Novus ordo seclorum.’  Forever, optimism, hope, courage.

Imagine the audacity of their vision and their trust.  It was not arrogance, but courage, that launched this historic experiment in democracy, the United States of America.

America has always been a place of courage: from the immigrants who crossed the seas to take a chance on America, many knowing that they would never see their homes again.

To the pioneers who crossed a trackless continent. That saga has its scars; but without their courage, we would not be an America from ‘sea to shining sea.’

To our heroes who protect our communities and our country: our nurses, teachers, doctors parents; our men and women in uniform, and their families and caregivers.

Personally, to my father – thank you Caroline for mentioning him – Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. – who blazed a trail as one of the first Italian-American in Congress, then the first Catholic Mayor of Baltimore; who would one day be sworn into the Kennedy Administration by the President, himself, in the Oval Office.


To my colleagues – and that’s just an example, that’s just an example – to my colleagues in the Congress who had the courage to elect me the first woman Speaker of the House.


I don’t like when people say I’m the highest-ranking woman, this or that, because I thought by now we would certainly have a woman President and, hopefully, that will be sometime in the near future.


However, it did take courage for my colleagues to elect me as Speaker.  When I became Speaker the first time, a Massachusetts Democrat, Father Drinan, spoke to Members at a Mass the day before, at my alma mater, Trinity College – now Trinity University in Washington, D.C.  My roommate Celia is here.

He reminded us of our responsibility is to the children – maybe now we have a woman Speaker, everyone’s focus will be on children – urging us never to forget ‘Christ’s personal love of children.’  He said, ‘As I look around this church, I see many people with conviction and commitment to their ideals.  But what is important is the third C, the courage to act upon those ideals.’

In my public life, I have seen leaders who understood that their duty was not to do what was easy, but what was right.

Especially when my colleagues had the courage to support the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform that Senator Kennedy called ‘the cause of my life.’

Theirs too was a chapter in Profiles in Courage.  When they left us, the press came to me and said, ‘Well, I guess it is over for you and the Affordable Care Act.’  I said, ‘Not at all, this is, as Senator Kennedy said over and over, this is the call of our lives, this is the challenge to our generation. We will not let this pass.’  And they said, ‘It doesn’t look possible.  How do you intend to do this?’  I said, ‘Well, we are going to do it and we are not going to let any obstacle stand in our way.  So, we go up to the gate, the gate is locked, we push open the gate.  If we don’t push open the gate, we will leap-frog over it, pole-vault over it.  If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in but we are not letting anything stand in the way of passing affordable health care for all Americans.’


So, when we did, they came and said, ‘Which one did you do?’  And I said, ‘Actually, we only pushed open the gate.  We were able to do that because of the courage of my colleagues in the Congress of the United States.’


If most of the reason I am receiving this award is because of passing the Affordable Care Act, I share this award with all of my colleagues, Democratic colleagues in the House, and in the Senate.

But it wasn’t just us, so many of you were there with us helping to push open the gate, at the grassroots level, the mobilization of Little Lobbyists, children with pre-existing conditions, the nuns – God bless the nuns – thank God for the nuns.  So many health care providers, so many people standing with us, pushing open the gate.

A real demonstration of what President Lincoln said, ‘Public sentiment is everything.  With it, you can accomplish almost anything, with it, practically nothing.’  The public was with us in pushing open that gate which made a big difference in the health and well-being of America’s working families.

And so, this, my colleagues were all profiles in courage, they were all profiles in courage.  Let us salute those who voted for this legislation.


In their name and in the name of all who hold fast to an ideal in the midst of the storm, I accept this award.  I do so with a word about what we face in these unprecedented years.

In the darkest hours of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote: ‘The times have found us’ – found our Founders in the Revolution, found Lincoln in the Civil War, they found other times in World War II, they found leaders in our country.  We don’t place ourselves in the category of our Founders or Lincoln but we do recognize the urgency of now in terms of what the challenges are to the Constitution of the United States.

And so, they have found us, the times have found us to strengthen America.  It is not about politics, it is about patriotism.


How fitting is it that this Award takes the form of a stunning, silver lantern: symbolizing the ‘fire that lights the world.’  You recognize those words.

Thank you for this award, which I will proudly display in the Speaker’s Office of the Capitol as a shining symbol of our obligation to meet the challenges of the times that have found us.

Thank you, God bless the memory of President Kennedy and the family that he loved.  May we heed his words that, here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

Thank you all so much for this honor.  God bless you.  God bless America.  Thank you so much.

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