December 22, 2017
Burns Auditorium, Department of State
Thank you, Under Secretary Shannon. Welcome to Ambassador Alves of Timor-Leste, INR Assistant Secretary Ambassador Dan Smith, Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton – soon to be or is, actually, the nominee as Assistant Secretary for the East Asia and Pacific Bureau – and other senior officials and distinguished guests. And to all of the Fitzpatricks, Figueroas, McAllisters, Zelinskys, O’Gradys, Wortmans – everyone who came from far and wide to join us here today. And welcome to all of my State Department friends and colleagues, all of you devoted stalwarts who are here on the Friday before the biggest holiday weekend of the year. Thank you so much for being here to share this moment with us.
Under Secretary Shannon, I am honored and grateful for the confidence that the President and the Secretary have placed in me by appointing me as the next U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste – and to the Senate for confirming me in this position.
This has been an amazing journey for my family and me. Without my husband, Richard Figueroa, also a Foreign Service Officer (and a lawyer and former Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Agency in Washington), this moment would not have been possible. We have been the proverbial Foreign Service “tandem couple” since 1990. He has made it possible for me to have a wonderful life, a beautiful family, and a career that has been so challenging and rewarding.
We are also so proud of our two daughters, Elizabeth and Alexandra, who have shared our journey every step of the way in places like Moscow, Brussels and Madrid – and our life in assignments here in Washington. Thank you to both of you.
I’d also like to welcome members of my family. My brothers Mike and Tom Fitzpatrick, my sisters-in-law Laura and Terry, numerous nieces and nephews, and I think there’s a grandnephew somewhere in the room, and my cousins. I could not ask for a more supportive and loving family. And with them I’d like to note my aunt Judy McAllister, who is here today in her own right but also representing my Mom and Dad who passed away six years ago. My parents would have been very proud of this moment. We miss our Mom especially at this time of year. And our Dad, who was a WWII veteran, served in the army air corps in the war and was actually a POW for a year and a half – he’s a hero to us for his service and devotion to country, duty, and family.
I also want to give a big shout out to the Figueroas – many of whom are in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas – living through the difficulties of Hurricane Maria with dignity and pride. They are represented here today by one of Richard’s three brothers – Dr. Edgar Figueroa and my sister-in-law Jerri – and our niece Liliana and her husband Gilberto, who join us from South Carolina. We know that Richard’s parents are also here in spirit.
And now Richard and I are eager to join our new extended family as we represent the United States in Timor-Leste. Ambassador Alves, I take on this new role as the U.S. Ambassador with great respect for the people of Timor-Leste and their accomplishments. Timor-Leste, as Ambassador Shannon said, is Asia’s newest nation. The country has demonstrated that it is possible for a new country to emerge from years of conflict as a nation succeeding on the foundations of democratic principles. Timor-Leste and the United States share a friendship based on those common values, and our bilateral relations are anchored in mutual respect and admiration.
As Secretary Tillerson said in a message on Timor-Leste’s Independence Day: “Fifteen years of independence is a remarkable milestone, reflecting the resolve and commitment of the Timorese people to build a new democracy based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. We are committed to deepening ties between the American and Timorese peoples for years to come.” I will work to fulfill our commitment to deepen ties with a country that has earned our respect and set its own path as a democratic and resilient state, as was exemplified earlier this year as Timor-Leste held peaceful, credible and fair presidential and parliamentary elections for the first time without UN peacekeepers.
As a democratic country in a strategic neighborhood, Timor-Leste is also an increasingly important voice in the region and internationally. Our cooperation together will build capacity for stronger democratic institutions, inclusive economic growth, and better security for both our two nations.
And this brings me back now to the State Department and our State Department family. I am very grateful for so many mentors who have supported me throughout my career, many of whom are here today. Such as Assistant Secretary Dan Smith, without whom I would not be standing here today, and I really appreciate all of your guidance and support these three and a half years as we’ve served together. Thank you. And also our former DCM in Madrid, Bob Manzanares, and our director of – there he is, I knew he was here – and I believe our director of UN Political Affairs during the first Gulf War, my dear friend and colleague Molly Williamson, and so many others. I learned from you the values of leadership, integrity, and service. So thank you very much. I have also benefitted from the constant and caring support of so many colleagues throughout this whole journey. People who have worked in my offices, people who have worked overseas together, friends who have been with me since the earliest days, even my first Dutch language class, which is the first language I learned in the Foreign Service, are represented here. I could not have done it without all of you and I can’t possibly repay you for all you have done. You have my utmost respect for your dedication, compassion, and patriotism. I hope you all “pay it forward” to others throughout your careers as we stand together to ensure the vitality and relevance of American diplomacy and the Department of State, advancing U.S. interests throughout the world.
And in this regard, it has been a true pleasure to join a new State Department team in the East Asia and Pacific Bureau. I am grateful for the support of Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton and her team, and in particular for all of the support our desk officer, Sarah Quinzio, and Post Management Officer, Teddy Brosius. I’d also like to thank Jen Wicks, Janie Esteva, Ambassador Scott DeLisi and our colleagues in the Office of Presidential Appointments. And thanks to my colleagues in Congressional Affairs, Aakash Bhatt and Tiffany Reeser, without whom I would not have been confirmed by the Senate, I can assure you. And to my new team in Timor-Leste – we have a lot to do together and I am proud to serve with you!
Finally, if I may, Mr. Ambassador I know you have a lot on your agenda, but, I wanted to just say a few words about what it is we do here at the State Department and the importance of this work. When I was in the Ambassadorial seminar, with both State Department and non-State Department nominees, we talked about what it means for those of us here in the State Department, whether Foreign Service or Civil Service, to serve our country. Then a couple weeks later, I had to explain this to a group of 8- to 10-year-old Boy Scouts – thank you Bryan Knowles – so, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this. I was really good for those Boy Scouts for the first minute of the 15 minutes – I had them. But really we express our devotion to our work and to our country through our dedication every day. And our patriotism is truly in our hearts. We have seen that American flag flying all over the world – and it never fails to cause our hearts to skip a beat or tears to well up in our eyes. We know that flag is a beacon of hope to all of us and to so many in the world who look to the United States for democratic leadership and strength in a sometimes chaotic world. So I will be proud to serve where this American flag will fly together with the flag of Timor-Leste – representing two countries that revere freedom and democracy and that are willing to do the hard work both within our countries and in the international arena to ensure these twin values endure.
And finally, every day in Timor-Leste as I take up my responsibilities as the new U.S. Ambassador and leader of our team there, I will echo the words of one of my esteemed DCMs, who started each day reminding us no matter what challenges we faced that day, “It is a great day to be an American, serving your country overseas.”
Thank you very much.