John F. Kerry

John F. Kerry
Commencement speaker: Undergraduate ceremony

Read the transcript of his speech

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has spent a career in public service, seeking to ensure that America lives up to its ideals as a champion for freedom, justice, and human rights around the world.

From his tour of duty as a naval officer patrolling Vietnam’s Mekong River Delta to his tireless engagement as secretary of state in the Middle East, Kerry has devoted himself to the nation’s toughest global challenges.

The common thread of his commitment has been an unshakable belief in diplomacy, a faith that treats military action as an option not to be taken carelessly, built on his firsthand knowledge of the terrible cost of war.

That has been a polestar for Kerry—in his lifelong advocacy for veterans and in the ideas he has embraced as a U.S. senator, as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 2004, and as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States.

Since his appointment as America’s chief diplomat in February 2013, Kerry has traveled more than 1 million miles and given voice to U.S. interests in visits to 80 countries.

In addition to leading the lengthy negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program last spring and summer, Kerry devoted many of those travel miles to the civil war in Syria and the attendant refugee crisis, the crucial effort to align our Mideast and European allies in the fight against ISIS, and the United States’ longstanding goal of brokering an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

Along the way, he has earned international respect for his style of face-to-face diplomacy and his deep understanding of the complex global issues facing the United States and the world.

Kerry gained much of that understanding through his work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first as a member for 24 years and then, starting in 2009, as chairman. In that position, Kerry was instrumental in the 2010 ratification of a new nuclear-arms reduction agreement with Russia, and he assumed a leadership role on key foreign-policy challenges—ranging from terrorism and drug trafficking, to trade and climate change.

Born in an army hospital in Colorado, John Forbes Kerry is one of four children of the late Rosemary Forbes Kerry and Richard Kerry, a Foreign Service officer.

After graduating from Yale University in 1966, Kerry served two tours of duty in the Navy, including his combat service in Vietnam, where he earned a Silver Star; a Bronze Star with Combat V; and three Purple Hearts. Speaking out against the war upon his return to U.S. soil, he famously posed the question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Kerry attended Boston College Law School, earning his juris doctor in 1976. He worked as a county prosecutor, and was elected Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor in 1982 and to the Senate in 1984. He is the author of best-selling books, including A Call to Service: My Vision for a Better America and This Moment on Earth, a book on the environment that he co-authored with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.