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On Last Day As Senator, Kerry Bids Farewell To Constituents

Sen. John Kerry greets constituents after his farewell speech at Faneuil Hall in Boston Thursday night. On Friday, he will step down from the office he has held for nearly three decades to become the next secretary of state. (Winslow Townson/AP)

Sen. John Kerry greets constituents after his farewell speech at Faneuil Hall in Boston Thursday night. On Friday, he will step down from the office he has held for nearly three decades to become the next secretary of state. (Winslow Townson/AP)

BOSTON — John Kerry will be sworn in as the next secretary of state Friday afternoon, replacing Hillary Clinton. On Thursday, in his dwindling hours as U.S. senator, Kerry took a farewell tour of the state he represented in Washington for 28 years.

Kerry concluded his tour with a farewell speech at Faneuil Hall, a place charged with political history — and you don’t even have to go back to colonial times. It’s where Jack Kennedy gave his last campaign speech. It seems like only yesterday that Ted Kennedy’s hearse rolled past it. And it was on Thursday that John Kerry ended his Senate career there. The crowd that had gathered heard first from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who succeeds Kerry as Massachusetts’ senior senator just three weeks after being sworn in as a freshman.

“Massachusetts is in a time of transition,” Warren said. “But we are doing something we have done before. From John Quincy Adams to John Kerry, Massachusetts sends a favorite son to the international stage to help guide our country.”

“Being exceptional requires not that you talk about it. It requires that you do exceptional things. And we have to continue to do that.”
– John Kerry

Kerry made his way to the stage to the official song of his presidential campaign, U2’s “Beautiful Day.” It was outside this hall in 2003 that Kerry announced he was running. It was inside in 2004 that he conceded the race and vowed to fight on. Now, he’s moving on.

“I can’t possibly do justice in words to this historic hall or to the feelings that I have at this moment and this transition,” Kerry said. “And I certainly can’t describe the place I hold in my heart for all of you.”

Kerry stood behind a podium adorned with the seal of the United State Senate. Behind him hung a painting of Daniel Webster, another U.S. senator from Massachusetts who went on to represent the country around the globe as secretary of state.

“I feel, more than ever, the weight of my ancestor John Winthrop’s charge that, ‘We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.’ They still are,” Kerry said. “More so in many ways.”

Kerry called the United States an exceptional country. But he said exceptionalism is not a birthright.

“Being exceptional requires not that you talk about it. It requires that you do exceptional things. And we have to continue to do that.”

Kerry said as secretary of state he’ll draw upon his experience working to find common ground in the Senate, and working with the 351 cities and towns in the commonwealth that, he said, are continuing to prove the democratic experiment.

“I’m eager to share with the world the example that America has set, as we have been guided by the values that come from this great state, our home, Massachusetts,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, when I step off the airplane in some foreign capital, the remarkable, unmistakable blue and white jet bearing the stars and stripes and the words United States of America, I will carry every single one of you and my experience there with me.”

For many in the audience, the farewell speech was plenty emotional: losing a longtime senator for the state, gaining, hopefully, a greater good for the country. But for supporter Mary Richards, it has come full circle.

“I was a campaign worker for John Kerry in 1984 when he first ran for Senate. And I’m just very proud, you know, of how far he’s come and that the president has appointed him to be secretary of state,” Richards said. “He’s come a long way. I’m glad I was there in the beginning and glad I’m still here to see this event.”

Friday afternoon, in a small, private ceremony in Washington, Kerry will be sworn in as the country’s next secretary of state. The world ahead of him. The challenge of history at his back.

This post was updated with Morning Edition feature content.

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