07/04/2011 02:39 pm ET Updated Sep 03, 2011

Happy to Celebrate You, Girl!

Today in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted in my hometown of Philadelphia. Every year, we celebrate that act of bravery. I don't need to tell you that we live in a very difficult time. I know how easy it is to turn off the news because so much of it seems so bad. But our strength and our greatness as a people -- our character as Americans -- is all about facing adversity and turning challenges into opportunities. It may sound like a cliché, but it's true -- every epoch of history brings with it struggles and challenges -- every moment in history is the best of times and the worst of times -- every generation faces down new challenges that seem to threaten its survival.

I am not pessimistic. I know, and you know, that we will endure, because we have the power to face the time in which we live with honesty and integrity, returning to the values that shaped us as a nation. Values of fairness and equity, values of compassion and generosity, values of courage and strength.

Armed with such values, you have the power to be of service by taking up a cause in your community and making a difference in the outcome of an issue that will change lives. You have the power, through service to others, of learning the skills of leadership and consensus building.

And when you do this with others -- your power, your strength as humanitarians -- will increase exponentially.

Margaret Mead, a pioneer in the field of anthropology, studied how people come together to make a life that is rich in strong relationships and joy. She gained powerful insights from her work about human behavior. Among her many writings, there is a line that I always turn back to -- "Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have."

As I think of all of you today, I think of those words and I imagine how much service can come from us -- how much power you possess collectively to change your communities and to touch the lives of so many people in ways that are important and meaningful. I think of my many friends who fight for our freedom in a literal way around the world. Hoping that America can stand as a beacon of hope and inspire others to fight for freedom. Others of you work here at home to make sure that we are progressing as a nation and constantly expanding the rights of our people, and making sure that individuals and our government hold true to that promise forged on this day.

And still others write to me to say that they are not doing enough, and I say to you, by struggling each day to not allow yourself to be like everyone else, to exert yourself as an individual and be who you are, while being open and engaged with your neighbors, by raising your children with such values, you are indeed being great Americans and doing so much to ensure that the next generation of leaders will make us proud. I thank each and every one of you for your service and for the times when you inspire and push me to do more.

I encourage you to look around and to see in each other what Margaret Mead saw -- the energy of caring people -- the only ones who can, in fact, change the world.

You have the power. Despite all of the bad news, take the time and, in a disciplined way, think positively about our government and about our way of life each and every day. Treasure the freedom that we have as individuals and as a community. We live in a democracy that has not only achieved greatness, but done so in a spirit of compassionate service to others, here and abroad. Don't take our freedom for granted and don't impugn the character and values of those who take views opposed to your own. Find ways to strengthen that freedom in your own lives and in the life of your community.

I feel July 4th almost daily. The blessing to wake up in America and, even though I love my travels and enjoy so many other countries, I come back to her, good old USA, and feel a debt that I am inspired to pay back for the privilege of being born in the greatest nation in the world. My love affair continues, and with each day I fall more and more in love with her, her people, her natural beauty and the struggle, sometimes ugly, to be and become the freedom that we seek.

So while enjoying the fireworks, BBQs with family and friends and perhaps even talking about how screwed we are and how we should do more, just remember we are lucky we can even say such things with openess and freedom from fear. Remember the strength of our nation, and that together, we can help to make her all that she can be.

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