50 years of naturalization ceremonies at Monticello
July 4, 2012, marked the 50th anniversary of the first naturalization ceremony held at Monticello. Since 1963, more than 3,000 people from every corner of the globe have taken the oath of citizenship at the annual Monticello Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony. These individuals come from far and wide, each with their own unique story about their path to citizenship.
Like each naturalized citizen, each featured speaker at Monticello's July 4th celebration comes bearing his or her own unique story. From presidential visits and speeches from famous Americans such as Sam Waterston, I.M. Pei and General Colin Powell, to moving tales of triumph from national figures such as Robert Goizueta, Vartan Gregorian and Madeleine Albright -- once newly minted citizens themselves -- each speech remains a stirring reminder of the value of American citizenship. These are truly American stories.
Below are some of the sights and stirring remarks of 50 years of Naturalization Ceremonies at Monticello.
Celebrating July 4th at Monticello - A Look Back
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, speaking at Monticello, July 4, 1936:
“It was symbolic that Thomas Jefferson should live on this mountaintop of Monticello. On a mountaintop all paths unite. And Jefferson was a meeting point of all the vital forces of his day. …Was the spirit of such men as Jefferson the spirit of a Golden Age gone now and never to be repeated in our history? Was the fundamental freedom which lighted the fire of their ability a miracle we shall never see again? That is not my belief. It is not beyond our power to relight that sacred fire. There are no limitations upon the Nation’s capacity to obtain and maintain true freedom except the strength of our Nation’s desire and determination.”
President Harry S. Truman, July 4, 1947:
"...The Declaration of Independence was an expression of democratic philosophy that sustained American patriots during the Revolution and has ever since inspired men to fight to the death for their 'inalienable rights'." Jefferson knew it was necessary to provide in law the requisites fro the survival of an independent democracy. He knew that it was not enough merely to set forth a Declaration of Independence.
Two years ago the United States and fifty other nations joined in signing a great Declaration of Interdependence known as the Charter of the United Nations. We did so because we had learned, at staggering cost, that the nations of the world cannot live in peace and prosperity if, at the same time, they try to live in isolation. We have learned that nations are interdependent, and that recognition of our dependence upon one another is essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of all mankind.
"...Here at the home of Thomas Jefferson, who dedicated his life to liberty, education, and intellectual freedom, I appeal to all nations and to all peoples to break down the artificial barriers which separate them. I appeal for tolerance and restraint in the mutual relations of nations and peoples. And I appeal for a free flow of knowledge and ideas that alone can lead to a harmonious world."
President Gerald Ford, July 4, 1976:
President Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, spoke to the new US citizens at Monticello, July 4, 1976. "...You came as strangers among us, and you leave here as citizens, equal in fundamental rights, equal before the law, with an equal share in the promise of the future. Jefferson did not define what the pursuit of happiness means for you or for me. Our Constitution does not guarantee that any of us will find it. But we are free to try.
Remember that none of us are more than caretakers of this great country. Remember that the more freedom you give to others, the more you will have for yourself. And remember, as well, the rich treasures you brought from whence you came, and let us share your pride in them. This is the way that we keep our independence as exciting as the day it was declared and keep the United States of America even more beautiful than Joseph's coat."
Carl Sagan, July 4, 1992
The late world-famous Astonomer Carl Sagan, author of "Cosmos," spoke to Monticello's new citizens July 4, 1992. Professor Sagan was recognized for not only advancing the field of planetary science, but also for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with ordinary Americans.
"And so it seems to me that part of the duty of citizenship is not to be intimidated into conformity, to be skeptical. I wish that the oath of citizenship that you are about to take in the next few minutes included something like, 'I promise to question everything my leaders tell me.' That would really be Jeffersonian. I promise to use my critical faculties. I promise to develop my independence of thought. I promise to educate myself so I can make independent judgments.' And if these statements are not part of the oath, you can nevertheless make such promises. And such promises, it seems to me, would be a gift that you can make your country."
Biographer and Historian David McCullough, July 4, 1994
"Jefferson was was thrity-three, six feet two, thin as a rail, reserved, brilliant, and homesick for his wife and child and this green mountaintop. But there he sat in a Windsor chair in the front parlor of his two-bedroom rented quarters on the second floor of a brick house at the corner of Seventh and Market Streets. There he sat through sweltering Philadelphia summer days, working at a portable writing box of his own design. He has no library at hand, no supply of books to draw upon, this most bookish of men, and he needed none because, as he later explained, he wanted only to say what everyone already knew."
"The Revolutionary War had begun at Lexington and Concord more than a year before. So it was not a declaration of war that was wanted. To Jefferson the Revolution was more than a struggle for independence, it was a struggle for democracy, and thus what he wrote was revolutionary. Why do some men reach for the stars and so many others never even look up?"
"The Declaration of Independence was not a creation of the Gods, but of living men, and, let us never forget, extremely brave men. They were staking their lives on what they believed, pledging, as Jefferson wrote in the final passage, 'Our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.' By reaching for the stars, Jefferson gave us all the impulse."
Roberto C. Goizueta, July 4, 1995
The late Roberto Goizueta was chairman and chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Company based in Atlanta, Ga. Following the completion of an engineering degree at Yale, Mr. Goizueta returned to Cuba, where he responded to an anonymous want ad seeking a bilingual chemical engineer, thus beginning his career with Coca-Cola. Mr. Goizueta eventually fled Castro's takeover of Cuba, was naturalized as an American, and rose in the ranks to lead the global company. Below are a few excerpts of his moving speech on July 4, 1995.
"I must start by recognizing the vision and determination of those of you who are to be naturalized today as citizens of this great country. For me, looking into your eyes this morning is like looking into a mirror - a mirror that takes me back twenty-six years ...back to a hot, muggy day in 1969 at the Federal Building in Atlanta, Georgia.
And in that mirror of your eyes, I see my own eyes ...eyes focused on a solitary flag as I pledged allegiance to my new country ...eyes wide with an immeasurable sense of anticipation, excitement, and opportunity ...eyes brightened by a deep sense of gratitude ...and yes, eyes determined to remain dry despite the sobering knowledge of the tragic fate being forced on the Cuban people by a communist regime.
It is your vision of a better life that has brought you to this place today. And it is your decisiveness ...as the masters of your own destiny ...that has made this moment a reality.
When my family and I came to this country, we had to leave everything behind. Back in Havana, our family photographs hung on the walls. Our wedding gifts sat on the shelves. Every material property we owned ...overnight became government property."
"But the tree of liberty must also be irrigated - irrigated every single day - with the sweat off the brows of enterprising men and women, men and women working hard to further prove the inherent superiority of a democratic society, working hard to demonstrate the lasting stability of a democratic capitalistic system, working hard to preserve the sanctity of private property."
"Like many of you here today, I know what it's like to lose what had taken many years to build. And just like you, I refuse to suffer through that kind of loss ever again. And so, I challenge you and every other citizen across our nation - whether native-born or naturalized - to embrace your individual obligations, to embrace your individual obligations as if the fate of the United States depended on it.
And you know why? Because, in reality, it does."
Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, III, July 4, 1999:
On July 4, 1999, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore spoke to new citizens and guests at Monticello's annual 4th of July celebration and naturalization ceremony. "There's no more appropriate setting to celebrate Independence Day and to take the oath of American citizenship than Monticello," he said. "With these words of allegiance, souls are moved and tears are shed and lives are changed, and citizens of the United States you will become.
You will have the rights of every American. You will be free to live your dreams and pursue happiness at your will, to create a more perfect freedom, here and in the world, because America is a repository of freedoms. While it comes and goes elsewhere, the flame remains here, alive."
Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, spoke at Monticello on July 4, 2000:
"As we are gathered here, on this historic property, amidst the bunting and the flags, I'm reminded of a day more than 50 years ago, when I first arrived in the United States, accompanied by my mother, sister and brother. My family cherished liberty, but Czechoslovakia - our native land - had been betrayed by leaders whose power stemmed not from the votes of the people, but from the Communists in the Kremlin.
We no longer had a home, but because of my father's job at the United Nations, we had the chance to come here to America. So like countless others before and since, we steamed into New York Harbor and beheld the Statue of Liberty - our eyes full of tears, our hearts full of hope.
I did not know whether, after leaving my home, I could truly find another. I should not have worried. At its best, America's embrace is as vast as this continent is broad. We were welcomed, given refuge, and provided the chance to make new friends and build new lives in freedom. For this priceless opportunity and all that has come with it, I will forever be grateful. And, of course, it never occurred to me that I would be secretary of state and have Thomas Jefferson's job."
Frank McCourt, July 4, 2002
Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, spoke to new citizens at Monticello on July 4, 2002. At age nineteen, McCourt returned to New York from Ireland, where he taught public school for twenty-seven years. In his retirement, he wrote Angela's Ashes, which draws on McCourt's own experiences of leaving New York where he was born, and returning to his family's home in Ireland, and its sequel, Tis.
"When you live in this country, here you are, you grow up, and there are all kinds of freedoms around you. In some parts of the world, they don't take freedoms for granted, but on [September 11, 2001] we suddenly realized what we had. We suddenly realized what a terrific country we live in."
"The history of my family, my own family, is resurrected for me from time to time when I go to a place in New York called Ellis Island. I've been there eleven times, and every time I go there, I go to what's called the Great Hall. When you go into the Great Hall, you see a great mound of bags and trunks and all kinds of bags that people carried their possessions in. It's a mountain of history. Then you go around Ellis Island, and you see things that people left. You see prayer books and rosary beads and clothing of all kinds, shoes, baby shoes - all kinds of what they call artifacts, testifying to the kind of immigration that we've experienced."
"I never went through a citizenship ceremony. I didn't have to, because I was born here. But I think if I had, if I sat in one of those seats, I would have been as excited as I know you are today. And then one of the sweetest things I noticed on the program is the presence of nine children who are going to receive citizenship certificates today. That's the future. You're the future because when you think of it, it isn't the unity, it's the diversity of this country that makes us so strong."
Sam Waterston, July 4, 2007
Calling them "fresh troops and reinforcements," actor Sam Waterston challenged 76 of the nation's newest citizens during his speech at Monticello's July 4th Celebration in 2007 to "...put the participation back into 'participatory democracy.'" Filled with humor, historical references, and rousing turns of phrase, Mr. Waterston's remarks prompted perhaps the only standing ovation in the past 25 years of Monticello's annual Independence Day celebration.
“My talk is, effectively, your graduation address, and every good graduation address begins with a call to the graduates to help the world they are entering discover its future. Consider yourselves called. And if the sea that’s America looks large in comparison to the size of your ship, don’t be dismayed. Let Thomas Jefferson be our example:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. The words are so familiar, so potent, so important, so grand and fine, it’s hard to believe that a person, any single person, actually wrote them, picked up a pen, dipped it in ink, and, on a blank white sheet, made appear for the first time what had never before existed in the whole history of the world. By scratching away at the page, he called a country into being, knowing as he wrote that the country was no more than an idea, and the idea might, at any instant, be erased and destroyed, and the United States of America become just another sorry footnote in the history of suppressed rebellions against tyranny.... And went on writing. You can’t help but be impressed by all that that one person, and the small group of individuals around him, not much larger than your group of new citizens, won for so many.
So it turns out citizenship isn’t just a great privilege and opportunity, though it is all that, it’s also a job. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you this news, so late in the process. But don’t worry, it’s a great job. Everything that happens within this country politically, and everywhere in the world its influence is felt, falls within its province. It’s a job with a lot of scope. You’ll never be able to complain again about being bored at work. As we multiply our individual voices, we multiply the chances for our country’s success.
Welcome. We need you. There's much to be done."
For a more complete volume of speeches and photographs of this annual patriotic event, purchase the hardbound book The Great Birthday of Our Republic celebrating Independence Day at Monticello.