Thank you, Sarah [Taylor], for that kind introduction and for all that you and your colleagues have done to bring us together today. I am so honored to be a part of this special occasion and to be among the first to congratulate the 700 men and women here on becoming our nation’s newest citizens. Witnessing the call of countries and your oath of allegiance made me proud and grateful: proud of this country which is now as much yours as it is mine; and grateful for the rich legacies you all bring to your new citizenship from your own corners of the world -- legacies that will make this a stronger, more vibrant, and better America.
By taking that oath, you are now, in about every way, on equal footing with your fellow citizens who were born in the United States. Except there’s one difference that you might say gives you the edge -- you had to pass that exam. You know what I’m talking about -- that naturalization exam, and some of those questions are not easy. So you get some extra bragging rights.
But you know that becoming an American citizen is more than signing a paper or even passing an exam. Being an American means that every day, you have the opportunity to embody the spirit of individual liberty and commitment to community that defines this country.
We are a nation not bound together by a shared race, or a single ethnicity, or a state-sanctioned religious faith.
The United States of America, our country, is bound together by a set of promises we make to ourselves and each other. Freedom. Equality. Democracy.
You see, the United States is more than a place on the map -- it’s an idea; the idea that you are free to control your own destiny, for yourselves and your family; the idea that you are part of something larger than yourselves; that you have a chapter to write in the great story of our nation; the idea that no matter where you came from, or who your ancestors are, how you worship or what you look like, you have a role in shaping our shared future.
This is what people mean when they talk about "the American Experience." And while it's not perfect, and sometimes reflects struggle and strife and sliding backward, it's an experience that is always unfolding, always reaching, always aspiring to become better. And everyday, the dream of America is made more real and more perfect by its citizens, which now includes each of you.
Each of you has an important responsibility in helping to make real the promise of America. That means staying informed and voicing your opinions; it means voting and serving on a jury if you’re called. It means becoming active in your communities and contributing your talents to help your neighborhoods, your towns, and your country. It means respecting different viewpoints and cultures, and educating your children to do the same. It means recognizing that through our diversity comes strength, and that those common aspirations that bind us together are stronger than those differences which separate us.
Even before you took the oath today, many of you were living these ideals. Each of you brings with you a unique set of talents that will enrich this country. You are students and soldiers; teachers and parents; artists and engineers. You own businesses, heal patients, construct buildings and raise families.
Some of you are new citizens like Corporal Jorge Luis Cuji Villacis , who came here from Ecuador when he was eleven years old, went to school, and then joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he wanted to make his family proud, serve this country, and become a better person.
Some of you have crossed the globe to get here, coming from countries like Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Sri Lanka, and Japan.
Some of you have been our neighbors for generations, coming from Canada and Mexico.
And all of you represent the vast diversity that is America.
So wherever you come from, whatever your native tongue, familiar food or personal custom, I want you to know that today is a new beginning for you, for your families, and for America. We are proud of you; we are happy for you; and we welcome you as fellow citizens embarked on this bold experiment in a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
And just in case you forget this anniversary, today is April 15 -- usually the day Americans pay their taxes. So on this day in the years ahead, I hope you will smile as you remember this moment, the day you became an American citizen -- and then, of course, don’t forget to do your taxes.
Congratulations to you all, and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share this incredible moment with you and your families.