The First Minister reflected on this year's 20th anniversary Holyrood celebrations and said Scotland has diverged from Westminster in key areas like tax and education.
It has also enhanced the country's standing on the global stage.
She told her audience at Georgetown University in Washington that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament "after 300 years of not having a Parliament of our own."
She added: "Regaining that Parliament, that seat of democracy and governance that sits in Edinburgh, has allowed Scotland - on some issues - to chart a different course from the rest of the United Kingdom on domestic policy.
"We believe that education is something that is precious and should be based on individuals' ability to learn - not on their ability to pay."
And the emergence of Holyrood has meant that Scotland's "international profile" has been enhanced, the First Minister added.
This has helped boost trade and cultural links and allowed Scotland to contribute to tackling "big issues" like climate change.
"We established a Scottish Government presence here in Washington in 2001, not long after the Parliament was re-establihed and later this week when I'm in Canada, I will meet staff at the Scottish Government's new base in Ottawa.
"In the last couple of years we've also expanded the Scottish Government's presence in major European cities like Paris and Berlin."