Transcript of Carly Fiorina’s speech to VA250 Commission October 17, 2023
VA250 National Honorary Chair
A few short weeks ago, Secretary Kay Coles James asked me to speak at the Gloucester Institute. And the occasion for that speech was what her community calls their Sunday dinner. In preparation for that speech. I spent a lot of time thinking about what we all talk about when we gather at Sunday dinner, or perhaps when we gather before the sabbath on Friday evening, or perhaps when we gather for an event. Whenever we as families and communities gather, there’s something that always happens. No matter the time or the occasion of the gathering. Together, we talk about our present. We talk about the events of the day, the people of the day, the gossip of the day, the arguments and conflicts of the day. But then, inevitably, when we gather together, we end up talking about the people and the stories of our past. We all do it. And the question is why do we all end up doing that? We end up doing that because we realize, in some deeply personal way, that we are not fully connected in our present unless we are also connected to our past. We do it because we realize that we’re not complete in our present unless we understand and connect with our past. It is true that a family cannot heal unless it fully understands and embraces everything that came in the past. It is true of family. It is true of the community. And I believe it is true of the nation as well.
People are suspicious about history where they are ignorant about history. Or they think history is irrelevant and doesn’t mean anything to them. But whether it’s talking about our past at a family dinner or whether it’s going to a website like 23-and-Me or researching our genealogy, what we all kind of know is that we need to understand fully what came before us. We sometimes get cynical about history because we think it’s cherrypicked and people tell certain parts of the story for certain purposes and leave out other parts of the story for other purposes. But what we all know as members of this commission, and you know it as well as I do, is that when we tell the whole story, when we fully embrace every aspect of our past, then history is like a mirror in which we all can look to see ourselves more clearly. When we tell the whole story of our history in our past, not only do we see ourselves clearly but we can develop empathy and understanding for each other. And I think we all can agree that we need more empathy and understanding in the world. I think when we reconnect with our past, when we look into the mirror of history to see ourselves clearly then we come away with a renewed sense of belonging and of commitment and we find a sense of purpose.
And that, in the end, is what we’re all here for. We are all here as a commission because we want to tell the whole story so that Virginians and Americans can look into the mirror of our history and see ourselves more clearly not just so that we understand ourselves and each other better but so that we can renew our sense of commitment and purpose to do our part to form a more perfect union; work that was not finished when our nation was founded and is not finished still. When we tell our history, we must begin with our founders not because they are the whole story, but because without them the rest of the story might never have happened. Thomas Jefferson, James, Madison. George Mason, George Washington, great heroes of our founding, and as Virginians we all know this. But the rest of America does not think about this very often. Of course, these great Virginians and founders were men of their times. They owned slaves. They did not believe that the rights they espoused applied to the enslaved. Or the indentured. Or the Indigenous. Or women. They were men of their time, but they were also men way ahead of their time. Indeed the words they wrote were a radical departure from the past. Yes, they learned from the philosophers of the past, they learned from their own experiences, but nevertheless the words they wrote were a radical departure from the past. Inalienable rights that come from God not government. That was a radical idea. Radical because it represented a departure from the past, but radical also because it would also change the world. The fact that its citizens, not kings not princes, citizens were sovereign was a radical departure of the past expression and would change everything. The fact that a system of government was designed to constrain to prevent concentration of power, that was a radical departure from the past. The fact that a system of government was designed to be self-correcting that would allow us to repair our faults, that was a radical departure from our past. The fact that George Washington would voluntarily give up his power was a radical statement and a radicle departure of the past. These Virginian founders, the words they wrote and the actions they took have inspired every movement for liberty, equality, dignity, and serenity ever since. Of course, as I mentioned, each of these men, all of these men, were Virginians. And it is one of the reasons, but only one of the reasons, why Virginia must play and will play a central role in the commemoration and celebration of our nation’s founding.
I remember my very first trip to the Virginia Museum of Culture and History and realizing on that visit that Virginia has always been the crucible of our nation; from the first colonists to arrive, the first encounters with indigenous peoples, the first ships arriving carrying the enslaved, the first representative government, our firsts go and on and on. Virginia is the crucible of the nation, all the way up from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, to the present day, to the imprisonment of women. The point is Virginia’s history truly is America’s story. Just as we would not be here without our founders, we would not be here without the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is why, as a commission, we must set our sights on leadership of the nation for the commemoration of our founding. Our mission, of course, as we lead the nation, our mission of course must begin with education. I learned things when I went to Colonial Williamsburg for the first time and Jamestown for the first time, the Virginia Museum of Culture and History for the first time, I learned when I went to the Gloucester Institute, things I did not know and so our mission begins with education. This is why our mobile museums are so important, so that each and every school-age child in the Commonwealth of Virginia will understand how their lives are connected to the past and the incredibly important role the Commonwealth played. It is why our presidential homes of Montpelier, Monticello, Gunston Hall, and Mount Vernon must play such a critical role in this commemoration and celebration so that we understand. It is why all of our great historic sites that all of you represent matter so much, it is why we’ll have signature events that commemorate equally important but perhaps less well-known events like the Dunmore Proclamations that were issued in Williamsburg that gave the enslaved the opportunity to become free if they would fight for the British. It is a miracle and inspiring story that so few agreed to fight for the British and so many fought alongside for liberty and freedom. Just as we tell the story of George Washington, we must also tell the story of his spy James Lafayette, an enslaved man who had to win the revolution as well. It’s why our Common Cause For All events that began this year in Williamsburg are so incredibly important. It is why we must celebrate the First Baptist Church — the first gathering of enslaved and free Black people. Education is a core part of our mission and it is something only this commission and this Commonwealth can do with such completeness. Education is followed of course by inspiration.
There are so many stories to tell here because this is Virginia. Every community has a story to tell. And it is why our mission is not just to lift up our founding fathers but also to connect with every single community in this commonwealth because every community has a story that we may all be inspired by. It is why we are so grateful to Chief Adkins for his leadership and tribal leader advisory council, we are grateful to Senator Locke for her leadership of the African American advisory council. Telling the whole story means that we must get every community engaged in the work that we do. Every community has their stories and their revolutionary heroes. Some are famous as in Gunston Hall and some are unknown. But together, we need to discover more of those stories.
Ultimately, of course, as we focus on education and inspiration, we need to remember that this effort is not simply an event. It is a multi-year effort as you well know. Ultimately this must be about more than fireworks and tall ships. Although we all love our fireworks and tall ships and we will have plenty of all of those, ultimately, there cannot be a celebration of red states celebration and a blue states celebration. Ultimately, there must be an America celebration. And our roles beyond education must be recommitment by as many Americans as possible. Imagine for a moment that we ambassadors from all over the world during the upcoming years 2024, 2025, and 2026, to come here to Virginia and reflect back to us what this nation has meant to the world. Because of course the fight for our liberty and independence and the words that inspired that fight have not simply lifted up every movement for liberty and equality in the United States. They have lifted up every movement everywhere else in the world as well. Imagine a Founders Day where every American and every Virginian has an opportunity to understand the role four Virginians played in the origin of the nation. Imagine an event where not only will we have soon-to-be-citizens raise their right hands and take the Oath of Citizenship, but we ask American citizens, Virginians, to raise their hand as well and save the words and recommit to their role as citizens and their engagement to form a more perfect union.
I look forward to working with all of you. I think the work that you have been about and the work that I now have the privilege to join you in is work that matters deeply to this nation. At a time of division and disorder, we must come back together around our shared history, that we come back together, and remember that when we tell the whole story, while it is complex and difficult, it is always inspiring. That when we tell the whole story, we understand that ours in the end the story of redemption and progress. I look forward to working with all of you to plan and execute a multi-year series of events. We began, as you know, in March of this year with “A Common Cause to All” and we will hear later about “A Common Cause to All” events in 2024 and 2025 and 2026. I believe our role together as a leading 250 commission because we represent the crucible of this great nation, I believe our work is to educate and inspire every American. For those Americans who can travel here to Virginia, there will be much to see, much to learn, much to share, but we also have to bring Virginia’s history which is America’s story out to the rest of America and we will use technology in innovative ways in order to do so.
I welcome the opportunity to work with all of you to recommit to what binds us together as Americans. Even while we celebrate and draw strength from our diversity, and as we continue our work together, we should always remember that our system of government was designed to allow us to repair our faults. Let’s remember as we work together that the work to form a more perfect union depends on each one of us, wherever we are and whoever we are, and that that work is never done. And as we continue to work together, and as we approach 2026, let us take as our mission that Americans everywhere will recognize Virginia’s history and the American story as their own. And that we all know that our complex, difficult, but ultimately inspiring and redemptive story is motivation for us to continue the work to form a more perfect union. I look forward to our work together.