President George H. W. Bush's first inauguration speech: Full text

When George H.W. Bush took the oath of office in 1989, he became the first person in nearly 150 years to have been elected president directly after serving as vice president.

Martin Van Buren had been the last man who hold such a distinction, and only two others had before.

Bush, who would eventually be known by both of his middle initials after his son won the office years later, had not simply won the election following President Ronald Reagan's eight years in office -- he had won it by a massive electoral margin. His popular vote count outpaced Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis by about 8 million votes, but Bush had won 426 electoral votes compared to just 111 won by Dukakis.

Bush kicked off his speech by acknowledging his former running mate and president, and pledged to lead in a "moment rich with promise."

Read the full text of the speech below:

Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. President, Vice President Quayle, Senator Mitchell, Speaker Wright, Senator Dole, Congressman Michel, and fellow citizens, neighbors, and friends:

There is a man here who has earned a lasting place in our hearts and in our history. President Reagan, on behalf of our nation, I thank you for the wonderful things that you have done for America.

I've just repeated word for word the oath taken by George Washington 200 years ago, and the Bible on which I placed my hand is the Bible on which he placed his. It is right that the memory of Washington be with us today not only because this is our bicentennial inauguration but because Washington remains the Father of our Country. And he would, I think, be gladdened by this day; for today is the concrete expression of a stunning fact: our continuity, these 200 years, since our government began.

We meet on democracy's front porch. A good place to talk as neighbors and as friends. For this is a day when our nation is made whole, when our differences, for a moment, are suspended. And my first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your heads.

Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: "Use power to help people." For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us remember, Lord. Amen.

22 PHOTOS
George H. W. Bush's inauguration
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George H. W. Bush's inauguration

Washington, DC. 1-20-1989 After being sworn in as the 41th President of the United States of America by Chief Justice of the United States William Hubbs Rehnquist, President Bush delivers his Inaugural adress to the Nation. 

(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres-elect Bush getting his tonsils checked by grandchild Ellie LeBlond, w. Barbara (L) & Marilyn Quayle (R), at inaugural fete at Lincoln Mem- orial.

(Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Washington, DC. 1-20-1989 After being sworn in as the 41th President of the United States of America by Chief Justice of the United States William Hubbs Rehnquist, President Bush delivers his Inaugural adress to the Nation. Credit: Mark Reinstein (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres. George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush waving, marching in inaugural parade, w. secret servicemen in tow.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan greets newly-inaugurated President George H.W. Bush as first lady Barbara Bush and Marilyn Quayle (far left) applaud during Bush's swearing-in ceremony, January 20, 1989, in Washington, DC.

(Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)

President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush standing by torch during his inaugural opening ceremony at Lincoln Memorial.

(Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Barbara Bush (2nd L) sits in front of her son George W. Bush (R) and grand daughters Jenna (3rd R) and Barbara at the Presidential Inauguration of George H.W. Bush.

(Photo by David Woo/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres. & Barbara Bush (R) & VP & Marilyn Quayle standing, waving, during inaugural opening ceremony at Lincoln Memorial.

(Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Pres. & Barbara Bush (C) in stands, w. granddaughter Ellie LeBlond on Pres.'s lap & Marilyn Quayle (R), at Lincoln Memorial inaugural opening ceremony.

(Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Pres-elect George H. W. Bush (C) showing off his new inaugural limo license plate with his inaugural co-chairpersons Robert Holt (R) and Renne Percy Korth.

(Photo by Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Pres. George Bush & Barbara Bush (R) & VP Dan & Marilyn Quayle during inaugural opening ceremony at Lincoln Memorial.

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Pres. Bush being sworn-in by Chief Justice Rehnquist (R) w. Barbara Bush looking on, during inaugural.

(Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Secret service guarded presidential limo during Pres. Bush's inaugural parade.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan greets newly-inaugurated President George H.W. Bush as first lady Barbara Bush and Marilyn Quayle (far left) applaud during Bush's swearing-in ceremony, January 20, 1989, in Washington, DC. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)

Pres. & signature pearls sporting Barbara Bush having high old time at TX-style black tie & boots inaugural ball.

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Pres. & signature pearls sporting Barbara Bush having high old time at TX-style black tie & boots inaugural ball, w. their son George (L-rear).

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper part of the Stax band play during the concert at the DC. convention center as part of President George H.W. Bush's inaugural festivies. This is the event where President Bush and Lee Atwater both took up guitars and played on stage with the band.

 (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

 President Ronald Reagan takes one last fond look back at the Oval Office at the White House January 20, 1989 as he leaves for the Capitol for the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.

(Photograph by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)

Pres. & Barbara Bush turning to wave at their guests during inaugural ball.

(Photo by Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Beaming Pres. Bush (C) manning mike, w. admiring performers in bkgrd., at his black tie & boots TX-style inaugural ball.

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Pres. Bush reaching over, gesturing to unseen, w. wife Barbara (L) & secret servicemen, during his inaugural parade.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

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I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn. For in man's heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push on. There is new ground to be broken and new action to be taken. There are times when the future seems thick as a fog; you sit and wait, hoping the mists will lift and reveal the right path. But this is a time when the future seems a door you can walk right through into a room called tomorrow.

Great nations of the world are moving toward democracy through the door to freedom. Men and women of the world move toward free markets through the door to prosperity. The people of the world agitate for free expression and free thought through the door to the moral and intellectual satisfactions that only liberty allows.

We know what works: Freedom works. We know what's right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.

For the first time in this century, for the first time in perhaps all history, man does not have to invent a system by which to live. We don't have to talk late into the night about which form of government is better. We don't have to wrest justice from the kings. We only have to summon it from within ourselves. We must act on what we know. I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.

America today is a proud, free nation, decent and civil, a place we cannot help but love. We know in our hearts, not loudly and proudly but as a simple fact, that this country has meaning beyond what we see, and that our strength is a force for good. But have we changed as a nation even in our time? Are we enthralled with material things, less appreciative of the nobility of work and sacrifice?

My friends, we are not the sum of our possessions. They are not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters. We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend; a loving parent; a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and town better than he found it. And what do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we're no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?

No President, no government can teach us to remember what is best in what we are. But if the man you have chosen to lead this government can help make a difference; if he can celebrate the quieter, deeper successes that are made not of gold and silk but of better hearts and finer souls; if he can do these things, then he must.

America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face of the world. My friends, we have work to do. There are the homeless, lost and roaming. There are the children who have nothing, no love and no normalcy. There are those who cannot free themselves of enslavement to whatever addiction -- drugs, welfare, the demoralization that rules the slums. There is crime to be conquered, the rough crime of the streets. There are young women to be helped who are about to become mothers of children they can't care for and might not love. They need our care, our guidance, and our education, though we bless them for choosing life.

The old solution, the old way, was to think that public money alone could end these problems. But we have learned that that is not so. And in any case, our funds are low. We have a deficit to bring down. We have more will than wallet, but will is what we need. We will make the hard choices, looking at what we have and perhaps allocating it differently, making our decisions based on honest need and prudent safety. And then we will do the wisest thing of all. We will turn to the only resource we have that in times of need always grows: the goodness and the courage of the American people.

And I am speaking of a new engagement in the lives of others, a new activism, hands-on and involved, that gets the job done. We must bring in the generations, harnessing the unused talent of the elderly and the unfocused energy of the young. For not only leadership is passed from generation to generation but so is stewardship. And the generation born after the Second World War has come of age.

36 PHOTOS
Barbara and George H.W. Bush through the years
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Barbara and George H.W. Bush through the years

George and Barbara Bush with their four boys: George W., Neil, Jeb and Marvin.

(Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Sygma via Getty Images)

George Herbert Walker Bush poses with his wife Barbara during his campaign for Congress in the 1960's. Born 12 June 1924 in Milton, Massachussetts, George Bush Yale graduated with a degree in Economics in 1948, made a fortune drilling oil before entering politics in 1964. US Congressman from Texas (1966-1970), ambassador to the United nations (1971-1974), Special Envoy to China (1974-1975), Republican National Chairman (1975-1976), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director (1976-1977), vice president of the US (1981-1959) George Bush is eventually elected president of the US 08 November 1988 against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

(AFP/Getty Images)

Pres. George Bush and First Lady Barbara (in sunglasses) riding in their Cigarette boat Fidelty w. an unident. man.

(Photo by Susan Biddle/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

George Herbert Walker Bush poses with his wife Barbara in Beijing in 1974. Born 12 June 1924 in Milton, Massachussetts, George Bush Yale graduated with a degree in Economics in 1948, made a fortune drilling oil before entering politics in 1964. US Congressman from Texas (1966-1970), ambassador to the United nations (1971-1974), Special Envoy to China (1974-1975), Republican National Chairman (1975-1976), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director (1976-1977), vice president of the US (1981-1959) George Bush is eventually elected president of the US 08 November 1988 against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.

(AFP/Getty Images)

President Gerald R. Ford and Barbara Bush watch as Justice Potter Stewart swears in George H.W. Bush as the new Director of the CIA, at CIA HQ in Langley, Virginia, January 26, 1976. The outgoing Director William Colby is at the left in the background.

(Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Republican Presidential candidate George Bush, wearing a t-shirt referencing his son George W. Bush, stands with his wife Barbara November 1978 in Texas, USA. Bush is campaigning for the presidential primary elections.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/Liaison)

Republican Presidential candidate George Bush looks at his wife Barbara November 1, 1978 in Hoston, TX. Bush is campaigning for the presidential primary elections.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/Liaison)

Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara attend the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Bush won the 1988 United States presidential election over democratic challenger Michael Dukakis.

(Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Barbara Bush stands with Vice President George Bush, who is holding their grandchild during the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana.

(Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres. & signature pearls wearing Barbara Bush interacting affectionately during awards ceremony in WH East Rm.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush stand at the South Portico of the White House awaiting the arrival of Diplomatic guest.

(Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Pres. & Barbara Bush waving before boarding pres. plane, leaving Italy.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

President George Bush and Barbara Bush during Chris Evert Celebrity Tennis Classic at Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Florida, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara celebrate with George W. Bush and his wife Laura, after the networks declared George W. Bush the winner of the US presidential election.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush attend a portrait unveiling at the George Bush Library April 21, 2003 in College Station, Texas. A painting of the father/son presidents went on display.

(Photo by Joe Mitchell/Getty Images)

Barbara Bush and her husband 41st President George H Bush watch Andy Roddick play Rainer Schuettler of Germany during the Tennis Masters Cup November 13, 2003 at the Westside Tennis Club in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, right, and another person react shortly after former President George H. W. Bush received a lapel pin referencing director Michael Moore on the second day of the Republican National Convention in New York, August 31, 2004.

(Photo by Dennis Brack/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

American politician (and future US President) George HW Bush speaks at an event during his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, Iowa, January 1980. His wife, future First Lady Barbara Bush, stands beside him.

(Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)

Former US President George H.W. Bush (L) with wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, and grand-daughters Barbara (L) and Jenna, wave as they walk through the Rotunda on Capitol Hill 20 January, 2005. With a pledge to battle terrorism and promote democracy around the world, US President George W. Bush was to launch his new term today under an unprecedented security blanket and a dusting of snow. Bush, 58, was to be sworn in outside the US Capitol at noon (1700 GMT), in the 55th US presidential swearing-in and the first since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that transformed his time in office.

(ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Barbara Bush (L) wipes water off the shoulder of her husband former US president George Bush (R) during the inauguration of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, 18 November 2004. Constant rain fell during the opening ceremony of the center which contains some 76.8 million pages of paper documents, 1.85 million photographs and over 75,000 museum artifacts from Clinton's eight years in the White House.

(ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

NBC NEWS -- 'Ronald Reagan First Presidential Inauguration'

Pictured: (l-r) U.S. Vice President George Bush, Second Lady Barbara Bush during the first inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981 in Washington D.C.

(Photo by: NBC News/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Vice President George Bush stands with his wife Barbara August 1983 in Kennebunkport, ME. Bush is vacationing in Maine with his family.

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/Liaison)

Former President George H.W. Bush reacts alongside Barbara Bush as their son, President George W. Bush delivers the commencement address during the Texas A&M University graduation ceremony at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, on December 12, 2008.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Byush and Mrs. Barbara Bush
 

(Photo By Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Former US president George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara arrive for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th US president at the Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2009.

(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Former US president George H.W. Bush (C) and his wife Barbara (L) step off Air Force One with their grandaughter Barbara (R), the daughter of US President George W. Bush, step off Air Force One May 11, 2008 upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. US President George W. Bush and his family were returning to Washington, DC after attending the wedding of his daughter Jenna at his Crawford, Texas ranch.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

US President George W. Bush (R), his mother Barbara Bush (2R), former President George H. W. Bush (C), First Lady Laura Bush (3L) and her mother Jenna Welch (2r) wave as they arrive at Fort Hood, Texas, for Easter Service 08 April 2007.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Former first lady Barbara Bush waives to friends as former President George H.W. Bush, right, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III look on during a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 13, 2011 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara watch the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Houston Astros on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on April 6, 2012 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Film Subject President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Mrs. Barbara Bush attend the HBO Documentary special screening of '41' on June 12, 2012 in Kennebunkport, Maine.

(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO)

From left US President Barack Obama, former first lady Barbara Bush, former US President George H. W. Bush and former US President George W. Bush say an opening prayer during a dedication ceremony at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the grounds of Southern Methodist University April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The Bush library, which is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University, with more than 70 million pages of paper records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails and four million digital photographs, will be opened to the public on May 1, 2013.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush and Former First Lady Barbara Bush meet with Andrea Bocelli and wife Veronica Bocelli before his concert at Toyota Center on December 11, 2016 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush (R) and former First Lady Barbara Bush give the thumbs-up from inside the presidential viewing stand overlooking Pennsylania Avenue during the Inaugural Parade 20 January 2005 in Washington, DC. In the 55th US presidential inauguration and the first since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Bush solemnly took the oath of office and declared that defeating terrorism required embracing a global mission to foment democracy.

(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Former First Lady Barbara Bush and former President George H.W. Bush look on during a game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Duke Blue Devils during the South Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at NRG Stadium on March 29, 2015 in Houston, Texas. Duke won 66-52.

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush are introduced prior to game three of the American League Division Series between the Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals at Minute Maid Park on October 11, 2015 in Houston, Texas.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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I have spoken of a Thousand Points of Light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I'll ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they're not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.

We need a new engagement, too, between the Executive and the Congress. The challenges before us will be thrashed out with the House and the Senate. And we must bring the Federal budget into balance. And we must ensure that America stands before the world united, strong, at peace, and fiscally sound. But of course things may be difficult. We need to compromise; we've had dissension. We need harmony; we've had a chorus of discordant voices.

For Congress, too, has changed in our time. There has grown a certain divisiveness. We have seen the hard looks and heard the statements in which not each other's ideas are challenged but each other's motives. And our great parties have too often been far apart and untrusting of each other. It's been this way since Vietnam. That war cleaves us still. But, friends, that war began in earnest a quarter of a century ago, and surely the statute of limitation has been reached. This is a fact: The final lesson of Vietnam is that no great nation can long afford to be sundered by a memory. A new breeze is blowing, and the old bipartisanship must be made new again.

To my friends, and, yes, I do mean friends -- in the loyal opposition and, yes, I mean loyal -- I put out my hand. I am putting out my hand to you, Mr. Speaker. I am putting out my hand to you, Mr. Majority Leader. For this is the thing: This is the age of the offered hand. And we can't turn back clocks, and I don't want to. But when our fathers were young, Mr. Speaker, our differences ended at the water's edge. And we don't wish to turn back time, but when our mothers were young, Mr. Majority Leader, the Congress and the Executive were capable of working together to produce a budget on which this nation could live. Let us negotiate soon and hard. But in the end, let us produce. The American people await action. They didn't send us here to bicker. They ask us to rise above the merely partisan. "In crucial things, unity" -- and this, my friends, is crucial.

To the world, too, we offer new engagement and a renewed vow: We will stay strong to protect the peace. The offered hand is a reluctant fist; once made -- strong, and can be used with great effect. There are today Americans who are held against their will in foreign lands and Americans who are unaccounted for. Assistance can be shown here and will be long remembered. Good will begets good will. Good faith can be a spiral that endlessly moves on.

Great nations like great men must keep their word. When America says something, America means it, whether a treaty or an agreement or a vow made on marble steps. We will always try to speak clearly, for candor is a compliment; but subtlety, too, is good and has its place. While keeping our alliances and friendships around the world strong, ever strong, we will continue the new closeness with the Soviet Union, consistent both with our security and with progress. One might say that our new relationship in part reflects the triumph of hope and strength over experience. But hope is good, and so is strength and vigilance.

Here today are tens of thousands of our citizens who feel the understandable satisfaction of those who have taken part in democracy and seen their hopes fulfilled. But my thoughts have been turning the past few days to those who would be watching at home, to an older fellow who will throw a salute by himself when the flag goes by and the woman who will tell her sons the words of the battle hymns. I don't mean this to be sentimental. I mean that on days like this we remember that we are all part of a continuum, inescapably connected by the ties that bind.

Our children are watching in schools throughout our great land. And to them I say, Thank you for watching democracy's big day. For democracy belongs to us all, and freedom is like a beautiful kite that can go higher and higher with the breeze. And to all I say, No matter what your circumstances or where you are, you are part of this day, you are part of the life of our great nation.

A President is neither prince nor pope, and I don't seek a window on men's souls. In fact, I yearn for a greater tolerance, and easygoingness about each other's attitudes and way of life.

There are few clear areas in which we as a society must rise up united and express our intolerance. The most obvious now is drugs. And when that first cocaine was smuggled in on a ship, it may as well have been a deadly bacteria, so much has it hurt the body, the soul of our country. And there is much to be done and to be said, but take my word for it: This scourge will stop!

And so, there is much to do. And tomorrow the work begins. And I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead. For our problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And if our flaws are endless, God's love is truly boundless.

Some see leadership as high drama and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so, today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity -- shared, and written, together.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

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