Ladies and gentlemen, seeing such a sea of smiling faces in front of me this evening, I can’t help but think of the young fisherman from Massachusetts who faced a much more threatening sea one night, but who, despite being buffeted on every side by storms, still helped his crew mates steer their lobster ship safely to shore.

Just thinking of that young man’s determination and resolve reminds me of the elderly woman from Nebraska who couldn’t afford arthritis medication but who persevered, who didn’t let stiff knuckles stop her from sewing the last stitch on the quilt she gave to her grandson on the day he shipped out for Iraq to defend his country against those who would seek to destroy the very thing that quilt represented—oh, did I mention the old suffragette had sewn a blanket of stars and stripes to keep her grandson warm on those cold Middle Eastern nights?

And may I also mention the father in Michigan who, despite working three jobs, could still not afford even the most moderately priced down comforter from his local Linens ’n Things, and who instead had to cover his young children in thin, scratchy cotton while they slumbered?

When I think of such struggle and sacrifice, it always leads me to recall the girl from Washington state, a girl so young she could hardly read more than a picture book, who nonetheless wrote an impassioned letter to her local legislature, begging that her parents be legally required to buy her a pony for her birthday.

And how can I mention ponies without telling all you wonderful people, some of whom have driven who knows how many miles and set who knows how many DVRs to record the shows you’ve watched with dedication every night of every week for years just to be here with me tonight—how could I neglect to tell you about the strong, beautiful, and amazing horse from Montana whose owner had to send her off to the slaughterhouse when things got lean on the ranch? Let me tell you one thing, ladies and gentlemen: I know that gorgeous mare had her head held high when they loaded her into that horse trailer, because she knew she was making the ultimate sacrifice for her country.

Because, you see, folks, when one citizen of this great country makes a sacrifice for another—whether or not they belong to the same community, the same religion, or even the same species—that citizen makes a sacrifice for our country, too.

Just like the actress from California who accepted a low-paying role in an independent film because she saw the chance to further not just her own career but the career of the young director she’d been sleeping with, off and on, for several months, on those weekends when that young man’s girlfriend was far away in another state, visiting her sick mother.

And when I think of people like these—Americans, the salt of the earth, the everyday average Joes who populate this country and its individual states and subdivisions—I think of you, the people listening to and watching this speech. Because you know what? You’re all people, just like those people, whose stories I have heard and know by heart, whose acquaintance I have yet to make and probably never will, considering the sheer spectacular size of this, our wonderful, our blessed, our United States.

Thank you, thank you, and God bless you, everyone.