Kelly Degnan: Like America, Georgia has had to fight for its independence

I feel particularly honored to be selected to be the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, a country that shares America’s love of freedom and democracy, - newly-appointed Ambassador of the United States to Georgia Kelly Degnan said at the oath-taking ceremony.

According to her, like America, Georgia has had to fight for its independence – a hard-won independence that remains under threat from Russia.

“Thank you, U/S Hale, for those generous remarks. Some of my most memorable FS moments come from my time on P Staff, so I feel honored to have you – “P”, the U/S for Political Affairs — here today to administer the oath.

I’d like to give a special welcome to Ambassador David Bakradze, the Georgian Ambassador to the United States. Thank you very much for coming. David and his wife Anna hosted Doug and me for a lovely evening this past Monday. We have now had a taste of that wonderful hospitality Georgians are so famous for! And I see why everyone keeps warning me I’ll need to watch my waistline. Didi madloba, David.

It is so wonderful to see all of you. Everyone here today has contributed to my reaching this point in my career. I am truly indebted to you – family, friends, colleagues, role models — for what you have taught me, and for your support over the years. It feels very fitting to take this next step in your company.

First and foremost, I want to thank my partner, Doug Morris, for his patience, flexibility, and loving support over the past 14 years. Having been raised overseas, Doug took to the FS lifestyle with enthusiasm. It’s not always an easy life, and I feel so fortunate to have Doug by my side as our next adventure unfolds. He is definitely as excited as I am about exploring Georgia!

I wish my parents were still here to see this day. They were hard-working Americans from small towns, who instilled in me a deep sense of responsibility, and a respect for tolerance and fairness. I owe them so much.

I feel truly blessed that my sisters, Kate and Kim, are with me today. They are incredibly impressive women, who have always been so generous with love, advice, and support for their “little sister”. For as long as I can remember, they have been wowing people with their accomplishments and intelligence. I am so proud of both of them and what they have achieved.

In the Ambassadorial Seminar, we were encouraged to write a note to remind ourselves why we joined the Foreign Service — why we chose this career. I think it was a Maura Harty suggestion.

That took me back almost 30 years, pre-FS, to when I was the attorney for the Supreme Court of Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific. Then, as now, my motivation was the same: I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help America build a better world.

After 26 years and 12 assignments in eight countries, I remain confident that American leadership plays a vital role in improving the quality of life of people everywhere, and preparing us all for a better future.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked to strengthen America’s influence by connecting with people, and demonstrating my commitment to the values that are the foundation of every lasting democracy: respect, tolerance, integrity, fairness, and freedom. I truly believe that democracy delivers the greatest freedoms and opportunities to the greatest number of people. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it’s unpredictable, but Churchill was right when he said democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.

I feel particularly honored to be selected to be the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, a country that shares America’s love of freedom and democracy. Like America, Georgia has had to fight for its independence – a hard-won independence that remains under threat from Russia. Now we are fighting together in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to help Afghans secure their freedom and build their democracy. Like Americans, Georgians want to grow businesses, vote in fair elections, hear from a responsible media, worship freely, and raise their families in a country where rule of law governs. I’m sure I’ll see even more commonalities between Georgians and Americans the longer I live there.

Serving as Ambassador is a unique chance to make a difference. As the US Ambassador, my primary job is to promote and protect America’s interests and I will do that with gusto.

I’m also committed to continuing America’s deep collaboration with Georgia, including on democratic development, trade and prosperity, and security cooperation. Through joint training and exercises, we are strengthening Georgia’s ability to defend its own borders — an important sign of America’s steadfast commitment to support Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Our assistance programs, including a robust USAID mission, promote inclusive economic growth and support the development of strong democratic institutions. Our military and security cooperation enhances Georgia’s interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces, contributes to regional and global security, and makes Georgia better prepared to defend its territory.

You might not know that the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Georgia have teamed up since 2006 to provide better educational opportunities, especially in the STEM fields, and to develop Georgia’s infrastructure. Georgia has been such a good partner that it recently concluded its second MCC compact.

Our medical experts also collaborate, with an active CDC program to fight infectious diseases, including an ambitious program to eradicate Hepatitis C. And we have over 100 Peace Corps Volunteers living and working in underserved Georgian communities. In fact, my niece Gina was one of them.

Even as we look toward Georgia’s promising future, it’s worth remembering Georgia’s starting point, and just how much the country has achieved, despite war, occupation, economic embargoes, and a hostile, aggressive neighbor.

Georgians have transformed a former Soviet Republic into a functioning, democratic State — no small feat. Georgia has made impressive progress on ease of doing business, tackling corruption, and building the institutions necessary to support democracy.

The focus now is on implementing systems and laws to ensure greater equality, justice, and transparency. Parliamentary elections later this year are an important opportunity for Georgians to show the world that the progress they have worked so hard for cannot be reversed. I look forward to working with the Georgian government and civil society to support a free and fair election process.

We have an ambitious work plan with Georgia, and high expectations of our Georgian friends. Georgians have shown they have the determination, and the fortitude to implement the reforms needed to protect the democratic process they have worked so hard to establish, and that is essential to Georgia’s trans-Atlantic integration.

There is no doubt that Georgia is an important and strategic partner for the United States. During almost 30 years of working together, we have witnessed a remarkable transformation – the result of Georgians’ courage and love for their country’s independence. Georgia has much to be proud of, and the United States is honored to stand with our Georgian friends.

We’ve got great momentum, And as Ambassador, I’m committed to keeping our partnership strong, and on a path to realize the bright future that all Georgians deserve.

I’ll end on a personal note. I didn’t set out to become an Ambassador. But when you love what you do – when you believe in what you do and the people you are privileged to work with — amazing things sometimes happen.

To the young women and men here today — especially the women — I encourage you to work hard for what you believe in and be true to our fundamental values of honesty, integrity, and service to your country. That will keep you strong. That is what made America strong, and that is what will keep American leadership flourishing around the world.

Thank you so much for being with me today”, Kelly Degnan said.

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