Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez. And thank you, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, for your wonderful remarks and for your extraordinary service at the helm of our Civil Rights Division. I am so thrilled to welcome so many Justice Department colleagues and honored guests to the Great Hall. And I want to extend my warmest welcome to all of you, our newest American citizens. It is a true honor to be among the first to congratulate you on taking the oath of allegiance. You come to us from 40 nations around the world, from Sierra Leone to South Korea, from Pakistan to Portugal, from Mexico to Malaysia. From so many places and through so many paths you have come here to be with all of us – illustrating this country’s motto of “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one. You come to us with hopes and dreams as diverse as the paths you took to get here: hopes for economic and professional possibility, dreams of a better life for your children, and expectations about the freedoms and privileges of citizenship. And in turn, we look to you with gratitude. We are so glad you are here. In joining us, you sustain one of the richest traditions of our nation, which is indeed a nation of immigrants.
To say that immigrants have been a core part of our American narrative would be a great understatement. Immigrants played a critical role in the founding of our country; many of our roads and buildings and businesses were built by immigrants; and our society continues to be powered by the ingenuity, diligence and drive of immigrants. Sometimes, it even seems as if we have taken more than we have given, as immigrants have fought and died to preserve our freedoms, and they have toiled and struggled to enrich our society. From the military to government; from academia to the arts – in every sector of every industry, we are stronger because of the diversity and talent of Americans with immigrant roots. And so we celebrate all of the richness you bring to our tapestry. We celebrate the foods you eat, the languages you dream in, and the religions you practice. We celebrate the wealth of skills and perspectives you have chosen to bring to our shores – attributes that have always made us a stronger, wiser and better people.
We are also humbled by your careful study of our institutions and our government – and your deliberate choice of our systems and our values. I know that the process has not been easy, quick, or casual. Some of you have waited and worked for years to achieve this goal. You have learned about American history and you have internalized the civic responsibilities that accompany citizenship. And in doing so, you have learned that ours is a nation that upholds liberty and equality for all; that defends the freedoms of religion, press and assembly; and that strives against prejudice and discrimination.
Of course, observing actual democracy in action reveals it to be a tumultuous process, as our recent election has shown. The rhetoric and the tone around so many issues can lead to fear and uncertainty and may have caused some of you to question whether the country you have seen over recent weeks and months is indeed the same one whose founding principles you’ve been studying so diligently. Yet the history you learned gives us the answer to that question. Over 200 years ago, we decided what kind of a country we wanted to be. We’re not there yet and we have had challenges at many points along the way. Our path forward to realizing our founding ideals has had twists and turns and outright reversals, yet we have continued to push ever onwards towards them.
And the lesson for every generation of Americans is the need and the obligation to pick up the challenge of making the American dream real for our own time and beyond. That is why it is so wonderful, so vital and so important that you are all here today. Joining this young, opinionated, vibrant country, because we need your vision and your voice, your tenacity and your resolve. Some of you have lived in nations that do not enjoy our rights and liberties; we need you to help remind us of how precious our freedom is. Some of you have felt the sting of discrimination; we need you to show us the value of tolerance. And some of you have lived in societies that did not allow citizens a voice in their government; we need you to help bolster our participatory democracy.
And so as we conclude today, I ask that you give your voice, your passion, and your energy to the work of building a country that keeps faith with our founding promises. I hope you will choose to vote in every election. I hope we will see and hear you in a range of settings – from school board meetings to charity fundraisers, from Little League games to political debates. I hope that you will share your rich perspectives and talents with those in your communities. And I hope you will never lose sight of the ideals of this country and the way ordinary citizens have, throughout our history, been the ones who have made them real for all. These are the ways we shape the country we leave for our children. We depend on you – as we depend on all of our citizens – to help safeguard our shared values. I am confident that you will rise to this challenge, as you have already risen to so many, and I look forward to all of your wonderful contributions.
In a moment you will take the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as citizens of this great country. I want you to truly listen to those words as you make that pledge. Your allegiance, your commitment and your drive is pledged not to any one person or agency of our government, but instead to the symbol of our country’s perseverance in the face of challenge and struggle -- “the flag of the United States of America.” And even more than that, “to the Republic for which it stands,” that brave, wonderful experiment we began over 200 years ago. And the simple yet eloquent words, describing us as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” are both the challenge and the commitment for every citizen of this great country. And now, my fellow Americans, let us ever work together to make it so.
Congratulations on this great achievement.