Secretary John Kerry greeted his new colleagues at the State Department on Monday with a nod to his female predecessors.

"Here's the big question before the country and the world and the State Department: After the last eight years, can a man actually run the State Department?" Kerry quipped. 

Kerry is taking the reins from Hillary Clinton. Clinton succeeded Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state from 2005-2009.

"As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill," Kerry said.

Kerry thanked Clinton for her service and pledged to continue advocating for State Department staff, mentioning the embassy staff killed in last year in Benghazi, Libya.

The Sept. 11, 2012 deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other staff members in Benghazi are at the center ongoing congressional inquiries.

"I will not let their bravery be obscured by politics," Kerry said.

"Everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people. There are tough decisions to make, but I guarantee you I'll do everything I can to live up to the high standards that Secretary Clinton and her team put in place."