Thank you, Kimberly [Zanotti], for those kind words of introduction, and thank you to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for hosting us at this historic estate.
I am so honored to be a part of this special occasion and to among the first to congratulate all of you, more than 100 strong, on becoming our Nation's newest citizens. You've traveled miles to make the journey; worked hard and studied long to pass the test; and now you've taken the oath that gives you a title even more important than president -- that of citizen; welcome and congratulations.
And let me also say "Happy Birthday." Because today is, as you know, the birthday of our Nation. And now that this land is your land, today belongs to you as much as it does any other American.
I can think of no better place for you to embrace the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship than right here at Mount Vernon, in the shadow of this beautiful home high on a bluff. This iconic space was, of course, home to our first president, George Washington. It was a place where he found refuge from the rigors of waging a revolution and building a republic.
Washington once wrote about this place that he would rather be here, at Mount Vernon, surrounded by friends and family, than to occupy the most influential seat of our government, surrounded by the trappings of power and prestige. And it is easy to see why. We are surrounded by stately buildings and bountiful gardens.
George Washington himself conceived and designed them, but it was Mount Vernon’s other residents -- the hundreds of men and women who worked for Washington -- it was their hands that built and tended this splendor. Like you, those men and women had origins that stretched around the globe. They were Christians and Muslims; Africans and Europeans. They were black, white, and every shade in between. They had names like Charlotte and Fatima, Daniel and Delphy, Godfrey and Hanson.
Some were free artisans who negotiated a fair wage for their labor; others were indentured servants whose labor eventually earned them their freedom; still others were slaves who earned neither wages nor freedom. Yet all were part of an ongoing, unfolding, imperfect endeavor in self-governance called the United States of America.
You see, our country’s Founding Fathers knew then, as we know now, that to survive and thrive, our young republic had to continually grow and improve; that our country had to become, as the preamble to the U.S. Constitution says, a "More Perfect Union" -- something made possible only by establishing a set of principles that defined the relationship of our citizens to our government, by identifying and protecting our most fundamental rights, and by constantly striving to live up to those principles and rights in both word and deed.
And the journey we have traveled in search of that "More Perfect Union" has not always been smooth and straight. There have challenges and setbacks; blood shed and lives lost. But because, as Washington observed, "liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth," we have, over time, continued to move ever closer to the aspirations articulated at our Nation's founding; closer to the ideals that make this a country unique among all others: Freedom, Equality and Democracy.
Because the reality is that the United States is not just a place on a map; it's an idea -- the idea that you are free to control your own destiny, for yourselves and your families; the idea 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 were, how you worship or what you look like, you have a role in shaping our shared future.
And that means staying informed and voicing your opinions; it means voting and serving on a jury when called. It means sharing your talents to enrich your communities and your country. It means respecting different viewpoints and cultures, and teaching your children to do the same. By participating in our democratic dialogue, each of you has an important part to play in making real the promise of America -- that promise of a "More Perfect Union."
And you'll do that because each one of you brings to your new citizenship unique perspectives, cultures, languages and talents that will enrich this country. You are students and soldiers; teachers and parents; artists and engineers. You own businesses, heal patients, build buildings and raise families. Some of you have crossed vast oceans from remote corners of the world. Some of you come from our geographic neighbors, just a few hundred miles away. Some of you are members of our military family, supporting spouses whose service protects the freedom we enjoy right here, in this moment and in this place.
And all of you represent the vast diversity that is America. And through that diversity comes strength and the recognition that the values we share bind us together tighter than any differences that may separate us.
So the next time you hear the words, "We the People of the United States," I want you to know those words mean you. Those words belong to you. They belong to your children, and they'll belong to your children's children. Because whatever your origin or native tongue, familiar food or personal custom, today is a new beginning for you, for your families, and for America.
Today is your birthday -- a birthday we all celebrate -- 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. Congratulations to you all and thank you for allowing me to share this incredible moment with you and your families.