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Secretary Ray LaHood --Remarks as Prepared-- Rededication of the Khalil Gibran Memorial Garden

Good afternoon.  Thank you, Albert, for the introduction.  Thank you to all the speakers and readers for sharing so many beautiful remarks and remembrances.  Khalil Gibran wrote that “remembrance is a form of meeting.”  So as we rededicate this restored garden and monument, it is as if we meet the poet once again.

For me, it’s impossible to think about Khalil Gibran without also thinking about the mountains and cedars of northern Lebanon.  Gibran was born, of course, in Bsharri – and on one of my numerous trips to the country, my wife Kathy and I visited his grave at the Monastery of Mar Sarkis.  But just 21 kilometers down a winding road is the town of Aitou, the village that my grandfather called home and the place he began his journey to America.  While we gather on Mass Avenue – at the heart of America’s great capital city – in some small way I feel like I’m remembering and re-meeting the extraordinary man who made my own story possible.

Now, almost exactly two decades ago, on May 24, 1991, President George H. W. Bush dedicated this memorial garden and paid tribute to Gibran’s legacy.  In President Bush’s words, this park was designed to serve as a testament to Gibran’s “belief in brotherhood, his call for compassion, and – perhaps above all – his passion for peace.” 

This week, I think we all feel the promise of Gibran’s belief, call, and passion anew.  As President Obama said to the American people on Sunday night: Osama bin Laden’s demise “should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”  And I think we’ve all been struck by the recaptured sense of unity in the country.

Perhaps we finally have a chance to begin the hard work that President Lincoln talked about in his second inaugural address:   “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” we can “bind up the nation’s wounds,” care for those “who have borne the battle,” and “achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Ultimately, that is what the Khalil Gibran Memorial Garden represents – values of empathy and compassion, tolerance and civility, “peace and human dignity.”  I could not imagine a more perfect moment to celebrate these powerful ideals.

I’m delighted to be with you.  I’m grateful to my colleague in the cabinet, Secretary Salazar, for his help securing the resources to restore this cherished park.    And I’m honored to play a small part in this very big day for the community.   Thank you very much.

Thursday, May 5, 2011