Common Ground Awards in Honor of the Late Ambassador Chris Stevens


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State

The Carnegie Institution for Science
Washington, DC
November 8, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: This is a very moving moment to honor someone whose life and work truly exemplify the meaning of “search for common ground.” And I greatly appreciate everyone who has supported this organization and its mission over a number of years, John Marks and Susan Collin Marks, my longtime friend Ambassador George Moose, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and supporters of Search for Common Ground. I also want to congratulate all of tonight’s honorees.

It’s a special privilege and honor to have Chris’s sister Anne with us tonight. This has been for everyone a very difficult, personal ordeal. But of course, for Chris’s family, it has been so much more. They grieve and they remember. And they have shown such grace and dignity in the weeks since they were thrust into the harsh spotlight of history.

In the rush of headlines, it is easy to forget that at the center of this national tragedy was such a real person, with passion and principles, with humor and irony, with ambition and humility, with friends and colleagues and loved ones.

Chris Stevens was a son of the West. He hiked and jogged and danced his way through the hills and forests of northern California, and then he did it in Libya. He loved the cool, refreshing fog of the Bay Area, the sight of the Golden Gate, and the warm embrace of his family. But his family gave him not only roots but wings. And he shared the restless soul of the frontier. His mother liked to say that he had sand in his shoes, always moving and running and working, seeking out new challenges and adventures. And there was music in his life. The son of a cellist, he himself played the saxophone, which, of course, for me – (laughter). Friends in Jerusalem remember his passion for Palestinian songs, as he would serenade them in Arabic.

When Chris first took the Foreign Service exam in college, he was asked to compare American democracy with the freewheeling energy of jazz. One of his closest friends, Steve McDonald, remembers spending hours discussing the question, about experimentation and improvisation, about the relationship between a brilliant soloist and a band that all have to pull together to achieve harmony. Later, Steve would come to think of Chris as a jazz diplomat. That really resonates with anyone who ever worked with or knew Chris, who saw his creativity and inspiration up close.

Jazz musicians like to talk about playing the changes. Their art lies in the space between structure and spontaneity. Yes, they do master the technique, but then they begin to improvise. And that is how Chris worked. A young Foreign Service officer who was with him in Libya marveled at Chris’s appetite for history and culture. He stayed up late reading memoirs of former Libyan leaders and delighted in sharing obscure historical trivia and cracking jokes not just in Arabic but in the local dialect.

Other colleagues remember his endless patience and talent for listening, two characteristics that really are required to be a successful diplomat. As one of Chris’s friends explained recently, you develop a relationship and a personal connection, and a series of connections become a network. Many Americans, well, we start at A and work down the list to F. But A to B is not a straight line, and Chris had an instinctive feel for this, how to get things done. He understood not just the science of diplomacy but the art. He heard the music and the words. And he was committed to his mission of helping others find their own freedom.

He found a second home amidst the shifting deserts and crowded cities of the Middle East. He climbed the Atlas Mountains, he wandered through Syrian souks, he jogged through Libyan olive groves. And he had so many moments of common ground. MORE.

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