When someone learns where I work, he inevitably says something along the lines of “That must be a wonderful place to be!” I agree and then explain that it’s more than the history of the house that makes it special. Because the site connects us to the ideas that began the United States – our ongoing experiment in self governance – it is still incredibly relevant to people today. Every year we have a chance to witness how relevant during a naturalization ceremony that occurs at Monticello on the morning of July 4.
The event changes a bit every year, but usually someone reads the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, a keynote speaker talks about the relevance of citizenship, new citizens are sworn in, and then they have a chance to say what it means to them to be Americans.
A foreign visitor to the United States in the early 1830s jotted notes of his impression of a July 4 celebration in Albany, New York. Two phrases he used ring true for the ceremony at Monticello each July 4: “Festival of the People” and “Real emotion.”
The ceremony promotes a connection between the audience, the speakers, and the new citizens. Despite the harsh arguments among political parties, the July 4 ceremony reminds me that we are all in this together. We, the people, are celebrating new citizens who will now join us in making the nation stronger. The ceremony reminds us of our responsibilities that we take on gladly because we are proud to be part of something larger than ourselves. It is a “Festival of the People.”
The voices of the new citizens always give me renewed strength. Their unveiled pride and happiness makes hair stand on my arms despite the typically warm summer morning. Many of them speak eloquently about why they are becoming American citizens and why it is particularly important that the ceremony occurs at Thomas Jefferson’s home. The group of us assembled take comfort in the “real emotion.” For me, the new citizens’ sentiments help replace seeds of cynicism with optimism for our future.
If you have not had the chance to witness the naturalization ceremony at Monticello, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Join us in this celebration.