In today’s January chill, on the day that commemorates the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation’s 44th president was sworn into his second term, and into his position as the steward of a nation still mired in uncertainty on an array of fronts. Summoning the bold oratory for which he has become known, President Obama used the occasion, however, to reflect on the certainty of principles set forth by the visionary founders of the United States—and offered an interpretation of what they mean in today’s challenging times. Repeatedly, he invoked themes of togetherness and of the pursuit of a common good.
Here is a selection of passages from his speech. They are striking in their relevance to the origins and the mission of The Junior League, an organization loyal to its founding principles yet confronted with the inevitable challenges of the modern age.
Together we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
We have always understood that when time’s change so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.
We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice, not out of mere charity but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity, and justice.
We the people declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone to hear a king proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
And, toward the end of the speech, he said,
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.