President Reveley welcomes 100 new citizens at Naturalization Ceremony| June 15, 2010
The following are remarks from William & Mary President Taylor Reveley at Monday's Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony at Colonial Williamsburg. The president served as the event's featured speaker and welcomed 100 new American citizens during the ceremony at the South Gate of the Capitol Building in the Historic Area. Federal Judge Mark S. Davis of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District presided over the ceremony, which was co-sponsored by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department. -Ed
It is always glorious when the United States of America welcomes new citizens! We are gathered today in Colonial Williamsburg to do just that - to create new citizens and to tell each of you who has just pledged allegiance to the United States how thrilled we are to have you now as our fellow Americans.
We human beings have a powerful instinct to belong to something larger than ourselves. We need strong, nurturing relationships with other people. For most of us, belonging to a family and to a country are especially important. But when we are born into a family or born into a country, we often take them for granted. The family into which we are born and the country of our birth become like the oxygen we breathe - truly appreciated and indispensable only if we suddenly find ourselves without them.
On the other hand, when we choose to form a family (for instance, to get married or have children), and when we chose to become citizens of a country not of our birth, that's quite different. Then we must make a very conscious decision to belong, sometimes after much thought and some agony of the soul. Then we must decide to strike out in a new direction, and we must be willing to do all that's necessary to make the journey. Our new American citizens have made a conscious decision to belong to our country and have traveled through the rigors of naturalization.
For these reasons, new citizens, your American citizenship is almost certainly more meaningful to you today than it is to those of us who were simply born into it, who take it more for granted. You new citizens have chosen the United States to be your county, to be the place where you belong. Those of us born American are honored you want to join us, and we appreciate the opportunity you have given us to think afresh about how much belonging to the United States of America matters to us also.
Sometimes people whose families came to America many generations ago forget that all citizens of the United States are now, or once were, immigrants. This is true even of the Native Americans who lived here when the first European settlers showed up. No one knows for sure when these Native Americans emmigrated from Asia to America, perhaps as recently as 12,000 years ago. And of course the first successful English settlement in America was truly recent. It took place only a few miles from here, at Jamestown, in 1607. The Pilgrims didn't make it to Massachusetts until 1620. Sometimes Virginians who trace their ancestry back to Jamestown or Bostonians whose forebears came over on the Mayflower forget their immigrant backgrounds. They shouldn't. We Americans are all immigrants.
Immigration - the constant infusion of new citizens into America's economy and civic life - has been absolutely vital to our national success. America's willingness to keep growing by immigration, by welcoming people from all sorts of places, races, ethnicities, religions, and traditions, has driven our economy, enriched our culture, and broadened our perspective over the centuries. The United States has embraced diversity far more robustly than any other country. Our openness to new citizens from abroad has been one of our greatest strengths when compared to other countries. This openness remains one of our country's enormous comparative advantages in the world today. It is a significant reason why the United States will continue to be a great nation in the centuries ahead. Countries that do not embrace people of all sorts - that are not comfortable with diversity - will find themselves pushed aside and marginalized as the world grows smaller and smaller.
The importance to American success of immigration and diversity is so great that I can't resist hammering it a bit more. Let me hammer with the eloquence of Gerald Ford, our 38th President, who spoke these words at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, over a generation ago.
"Immigrants [said President Ford] came [to America] from almost everywhere, singly and in waves. Throughout our first century they brought the restless drive for better lives and rugged strength that cleared the wilderness, plowed the prairie, tamed the western plains, push[ed to] the Pacific and to Alaska. . . . [T]hese new Americans brought with them precious relics of the worlds they left behind - a song, a story, a dance, a tool, a seed, a recipe, the name of a place, the rules of the game, a trick of the trade.
"Such transfusions of traditions and culture, as well as of blood, [President Ford continued] have made America unique among nations and Americans a new kind of people. There is little in the world that is not native to the United States today. Unfettered by ancient hates, the people of the young United States really believed that all men are created equal. We admit that they had stubborn blind spots in their lofty vision - for blacks, whose forebears had been Americans almost as long as theirs, and for women, whose political rights we took even longer to recognize.
"This is not the day, however, [said Ford] to deplore our shortcomings or to regret that not all new citizens have been welcomed as you are here today. The essential fact is that the United States - as a national policy and in the hearts of most Americans - has been willing to absorb anyone from anywhere. We were confident that simply by sharing our American adventure these newcomers would be loyal, law-abiding, productive citizens, and they [were]. Older nations in the 18th and 19th centuries granted their nationality to foreign born only as a special privilege, if at all. We offered citizenship to all, and we have been richly rewarded.
"The United States was able to do so because we are uniquely a community of values, as distinct from a religious community, a racial community, a geographic community, or an ethnic community. This Nation was founded . . ., not on ancient legends or conquests or physical likeness or language, but on . . . certain political value[s] which Jefferson's pen so eloquently expressed.
"To be an American is to subscribe to these principles which the Declaration of Independence proclaims and the Constitution protects - the political values of self-government, liberty and justice, equal rights, and equal opportunity. These beliefs are the secrets of America's unity from diversity . . . ."
Thus, spoke Gerald Ford many years ago, on July 4, 1976, in words that resonate as powerfully today as then.
What better place to become a new citizen of the United States than right here in the Historic Triangle, formed by Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown? Here the first permanent English settlement in America took root, representative government got its start right here in Colonial Williamsburg - the restored capitol stands behind us, a vibrant market economy saw its first American flowering in our triangle, one of the great American universities, William & Mary, took hold here, and the definitive battle in our country's war for independence was fought and won in the triangle. Here, too, in this Historic Triangle, races and cultures from Europe, Africa and North America were first thrown together and mixed in our national melting pot, tragically at the outset, but with enormous potential for the future. Truly, the Historic Triangle is the most seemly place for new American citizens to be made.
Let me end with a final thought. None of us is guaranteed happiness in this life. But we Americans can pursue happiness on a more level national playing field than can the citizens of any other country. As Harry Truman, our 33rd President, once said, "Being an American . . . is a belief that everyone deserves an even break." May each of you new Americans find a "even break" in your adopted country. America is graced by your presence.
Congratulations and welcome!