ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Atlantic Council President and CEO Mr. Fred Kempe. (Applause.)
FREDERICK KEMPE: Good evening, everybody.
First of all, thank you to General Jones for that moving tribute to our friend and our inspiration, Ellen Tauscher.
Let me also add my welcome to that of our new chairman, John Rogers, to what some in the Washington media have come to call the Oscars of international affairs. (Laughter.)
So John is a very modest man, but the chairmen of the Atlantic Council are a remarkable group, and those I have served with are Henry Catto, Chuck Hagel, Jon Huntsman, Brent Scowcroft twice, and General Jones twice. John Rogers is an inspiring individual who embodies everything that this institution, almost 60 years old now, stands for. So please join me in welcoming him as our new chairman. (Applause.)
Through these awards, the Atlantic Council not only salutes deserving honorees, but in so doing we also hope to inspire others to step forward to contribute to a better world. In that spirit, our recognition of NATO – the first time we’ve so honored an international organization – is a sort of lifetime achievement award, which is also looking to the future of what NATO can do next.
Our next award has been presented rarely at the Atlantic Council. It looks squarely to the future. Our Distinguished Service Award recognizes a woman, among her many accomplishments, has contributed significantly – and I would say uniquely – to the Atlantic Council’s continual innovations to address a host of new and global challenges. The late Senator John McCain, who we honored posthumously last year, once said, “Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself.” In that spirit, it is my honor to announce this evening something we made known publicly only yesterday.
Almost three years ago, Adrienne Arsht came to me with an idea for a new Atlantic Council center, one focused on resilience. Adrienne challenged us to question the bounds of the human spirit and its inherent resilience, while pushing us to think deeply about how we can build resilience into every level of our societies to sustainably counter the many complex and rapidly changing threats we face each day.
Tonight, I’m delighted to announce a pivotal moment for the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience and a historic moment for the Atlantic Council. Adrienne has committed $25 million to permanently endow the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at the Atlantic Council. (Applause.) Coupled with the recent $30 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the center will be renamed the Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center effective tomorrow. (Applause.)
Thirdly – and this is the reason I was – and I use the word “historic” advisedly. At The Wall Street Journal, where I worked for 25 years, it was the word that was cut out of stories most frequently. But it is a historic moment for us. Under the leadership of its new director, the remarkable Kathy Baughman McLeod, the center now embarks on a bold journey to enhance the resilience of 1 billion people around the world by 2030.
The painstaking mythology – methodology – behind this audacious goal not only convinced me but also convinced the Rockefeller Foundation that the goal is not only achievable but commendable. If that’s not about acting true to something larger than yourself, then I don’t know what is, Adrienne. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, turn your eyes to the screens.
(Music: “I Will Survive.”)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage seven-time NBA all-star, Olympic gold medalist, and founder of the Mourning Family Foundation, Mr. Alonzo Mourning. (Cheers, applause.)
ALONZO MOURNING: I’m a little upset with the Council. They had to find the smallest podium. (Laughter.) They weren’t expecting me to be here, I guess. (Laughter.) We’re going to work it out, though. We’re going to work it out, yeah.
Good evening, everyone. Good evening, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good evening.
MOURNING: Ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests. And congratulations to all the other honorees. It is truly my pleasure, as well as a tremendous honor, to spend an evening with you all, even though I would rather be watching the playoff games right now. (Laughter.) But I’ll make an exception for Ms. Arsht.
But on a more serious note, I walked in here and I look around, you know, and I’m seeing all these distinguished guests and what have you, and immediately I started thinking about the journeys that we all had to take to get here – not here specifically this evening, but in our lives, the journeys that we all had to take in our lives to get to where we are.
And the one common thread that we all share is that none of us would be here without the contributions of others. Each of us achieved some level of greatness by standing on the shoulders of a predecessor, a benefactor, a role model, a family member. Because we are recipients of someone else’s benevolence, we have an obligation to pay it forward in an effort to perpetuate the ripple of kindness, creativity and service. In essence, our true purpose in life is service, service to others.
Tonight I have the privilege of introducing a phenomenal servant leader who personifies the philosophy that service to others is paramount. Adrienne Arsht is a lawyer by trade, but philanthropy is her heart, her calling card. She has donated millions of dollars to various cultural and not-for-profit organizations, including the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center.
Adrienne’s passion for artistic expression is so intense that in 2007 she donated 30 million (dollars) to an arts center in the heart of downtown Miami. It demonstrated her willingness to take a stand and invest in her passion, and it resulted in the establishment of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, one of the world’s leading performing arts organizations and venues. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Arsht Center many times over the 23 years that I’ve been in Miami, and Adrienne also makes it possible for me to take my students from my foundation and the youth center that I have in Overtown just blocks away to the arts center – to the arts center for various programming.
We both believe exposure particularly to the arts expands a child’s worldview. In an effort to shatter shallow experiences and pervasive poverty, we expose my kids to the culturally diverse and inclusive events at the center including theater, camps, and different performances.
Adrienne once said that the arts, visual and performing, define civilization and when you give to the arts or, in this case, expose others to the arts, we are in fact preserving the essence of civilization for generations to come. That is such a profound idea and it perfectly explains why it is so critical that all kids, even kids in very impoverished areas, are exposed to the arts.
In addition to her work with the arts, Adrienne has launched several centers, including – and I echo this; it was just mentioned – the Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center for the Atlantic Council. This center was established to help forge an effective partnership with the Latin America Group in Europe.
Her efforts to mitigate suffering in crisis led to the launching of the Adrienne Arts Center for Resilience, also at the Atlantic Council. This center seeks to advance resilience by helping individuals, communities, institutions better prepare for, absorb, and recover from potential challenges and prosper in a more resilient world.
Adrienne’s benevolence has propelled the growth of the arts globally through business and civic interests in several cities including New York, Washington, D.C., and, of course, Miami. The through line in all of her efforts, however, is fortifying resources – natural, financial, and cultural resources as well as human relationships. This is why she is so deserving of the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Service Award. Adrienne is the quintessential tastemaker whose passion for culture, class, business, and service has added layers of sophistication, edification, and preparation to our world.
Ladies and gentleman, it is truly an honor to bring to the stage my friend, the elegant Ms. Adrienne Arsht. (Applause.)
(Music: “I Will Survive.”)
ARSHT: Thank you, Zo. I’m sorry for the short podium. They had to choose between what I needed or you needed, and you can lean over but I can’t stand taller. (Laughter.) Thank you for those kinds words, Zo, and for flying in from California on the red eye this morning with a change of planes in Nashville. I’m sorry, Fred. It was not in Memphis. (Laughter.)
As I was reading Zo’s book, “Resilience,” I learned that he, the great Muhammad Ali, and I have something common. Ali said service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth. Zo, in his book, along the same lines, said: I try to – I strive to pay my rent. And I say our time here on Earth is a gift. We pay rent for that time. And those of us here in this room live in a very high-rent district. (Laughter.)
Part of that rent is to care for and support humanity. My father, Samuel Arsht, always taught me that you only regret your economies. All my philanthropic decisions flow from this, and from the money raised by my investment advisor, Goldman Sachs. (Laughter, applause.) Thank you, John Rogers. (Laughter.)
I always think of my mother, Roxana Cannon Arsht, as a combination of Joan of Arc and Don Quixote. There was a small statue of Don Quixote in the front hall of our home in Delaware. Like Joan of Arc, my mother was always prepared to die for a cause. And sometimes, these causes were merely tilting at windmills. But she was never deterred. My mother always carried a copy of the Constitution . In your giftbag tonight is your own copy of the Constitution. And inside, is a card with a quote from Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.
Thank you for this honor tonight. I share this podium with some really great people, and a spectacular organization called NATO. And now, I ask you to join me in living your life by standing up for what you believe, whatever that may be. And how I will pivot from Edmund Burke to Liza Minnelli. (Laughter.) Liza once said that it gave her great comfort to know that whatever emotion she had, there was already a song written about it, and therefore she too would get through. (Laughter.) Two of my favorite songs will be performed for you tonight by the American Pops Orchestra. I won’t spoil the surprise about the closing song, but remember it defines me and all of you in this room. And now, the first song, performed by Christian Douglas I dedicate to my parents. It is called “I Am What I Am.” Christian. (Applause.)