- Community Empowerment
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Sesame Workshop Awards Gala Dinner
New York, United States
Good evening and thank you, Leen, for those lovely words. You may know the saying, “If you educate a woman, you educate a family.” Your example makes clear that if you educate a girl, you educate the future. And whenever I meet young Jordanians like you, I know our country’s future is bright indeed.
I’m truly honored to be receiving the Sesame Workshop Award – and especially to accept it from Mrs. Cooney which only adds to the excitement that I feel seeing this wonderful group here tonight. My children are convinced that this is the best award I’ve ever received, although they were a little disappointed to learn that Elmo was not himself presenting it.
It is a pleasure to share in the celebrations marking the Sesame Workshop’s 35th Anniversary Benefit Dinner surrounded by the familiar and friendly faces of Elmo, Grover, Bert and Ernie, and Cookie Monster (who’s looking a little slimmer these days).
Like millions of children then, and now, my brother and sister and I grew up laughing and learning on Sesame Street. The catchy tunes and clever animation…and of course the warm and diverse cast that included characters of every race, fur and feather, played a very important and unforgettable role in our early childhood years.
And today, I’m pleased to find myself strolling down Sesame Street again—this time, with my own four young children, who have made Hikayat Simsim, as it’s known in Jordan, a regular part of my day…and my night and the interior décor of our house, courtesy of my daughters’ collection of soft toys.
It’s amazing to think that a television program has touched three generations of children without losing its charm or its relevance. But Sesame Street has always been driven by what its young viewers need – and marked by its ability to adapt to our complex and fast-changing world.
Today, children play on Sesame Street in more than 120 countries. And this very long street is not only a thoroughfare for basic literacy, math and life skills, but a path along which children regardless of color, religion or ethnicity, can walk together and learn about each other’s backgrounds and cultures.
Nowhere is that more important than in my part of the world where Sesame Street’s local and regional variations are helping many children find creative and positive approaches to understanding the diverse world around them.
On Hikayat Simsim, the Jordanian muppets, Tonton and Suljul are learning how much the children of our region have in common…and to value and respect what makes them different. And on Alam Simsim in Egypt, an exuberant girl muppet named Khokha who has a passion for learning, sings of growing up to be a doctor…a pilot…a ship captain…or a lawyer¬¬-- inspiring girls, and boys as well, to believe that women's roles today can be as varied and as vital as those of men.
To my mind, this is one of the most important messages we can teach our children, and our parents: That each among us has something of value to contribute… and we all deserve a chance to make the most of our own lives. In Jordan, we’re proud to have been recognized by UNICEF recently for our primary school attendance of 97.2% -- the highest rate in the Arab world, and one that includes as many girls as boys. Now we are working determinedly to overcome cultural stereotypes and ensure that our girls stay in school as long as boys to earn high school and college degrees…because that’s the best way to ensure that, in the future, “every door will open wide…” for all our people.
And I say in the future because the future is what tonight – and indeed, the past 30 years – are really all about. Through the doors that Sesame Street has opened wide around the world, children see a future full of color, music, opportunity and hope – and no matter what they look like or where they come from, they’re always assured of a warm welcome and encouraged to come inside.
I know that with Sesame Workshop’s inspired leadership, and your continued support, those doors will usher in more and more children, from many places in this world we share, who will help lead the way to “a sunny day”… “where everything is A-Okay.”