The hearing was an odd juxtaposition. Kerry has served on the committee during his entire 28 years in the Senate and has chaired the panel for the last four. On Thursday, he sat at the witness table, his voice at times cracking from emotion, facing his colleagues and friends.
Obama chose Kerry to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who introduced the senator. "John is the right choice," Clinton told the panel. "He will bring a record of leadership and service that is exemplary."
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the incoming chairman who presided over the confirmation hearing, noted that Kerry was the first senator on the panel in a century to ascend to the Cabinet post. Corker told Kerry, "you've almost lived your entire life for this moment."
A lone protester shouting about the Middle East interrupted the hearing. Just as Kerry completed his prepared testimony, the woman began shouting about the Middle East and was escorted from the room.
The Vietnam War, a long, bitter conflict that decimated a generation of draft-age men, played a prominent role at the hearing.
In his testimony, Kerry alluded to his controversial moment before the committee some 42 years ago, when the decorated Vietnam veteran testified about his opposition to the war, and famously asked, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
"Today I can't help but recognize that the world itself then was in many ways simpler, divided as it was along bi-polar, Cold War antagonisms," Kerry said. "Today's world is more complicated than anything we have experienced - from the emergence of China to the Arab Awakening: inextricably linked economic, health, environmental and demographic issues" as well as issues such as proliferation.
McCain, who also introduced Kerry, said their friendship took root with their work on a committee seeking to resolve the status of POWs and missing in action from Vietnam as well as efforts to ensure normal U.S. relations with Vietnam during President Bill Clinton's administration.
"Helping to establish a relationship with Vietnam that serves American interests and values, rather than one that remained mired in mutual resentment and bitterness, is one of my proudest accomplishments as a senator, and I expect it is one of John's as well," McCain said. "Working toward that end with John, and witnessing almost daily his exemplary statesmanship, is one of the highest privileges I've had here."
The hearing is the first of three for Obama's national security nominees, and the least controversial.
Hagel will face tough questions about his past statements on Israel, Iran, nuclear weapons and defense spending at his confirmation hearing next Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. John Brennan, the president's choice for CIA director, will be quizzed about White House national security leaks and the use of unmanned drones at his hearing next month.
The job of the nation's top diplomat would be the realization of a dream for Kerry, whom Obama passed over in 2008 when he chose Clinton. When Joe Biden became vice president, Kerry replaced the former Delaware senator as chairman of the committee.
Obama nominated Kerry after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, removed her name from consideration following criticism from Republicans over her initial comments about the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Kerry, 69, is the son of a diplomat and has served as Obama's unofficial envoy, using his skills of persuasion with leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In advance of the hearing, Kerry said he plans to divest holdings in dozens of companies in his family's vast financial portfolio to avoid conflicts of interest if he is confirmed.
He notified the State Department earlier this month that within 90 days of his confirmation he would move to sell off holdings in three trusts benefiting him and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. In the Jan. 8 letter to the department's Office of the Legal Adviser, Kerry said he would not take part in any decisions that could affect the companies he has holdings in until those investments are sold off.
Kerry is the wealthiest man in the Senate, worth more than $184 million, according to a 2011 Senate disclosure.