About 70 people from over 35 countries today will take the oath of citizenship, accepting the obligation to uphold and defend the Constitution on the west lawn of of Monticello. This year marks the 52nd Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Va., where more than 3,000 people have become citizens since 1963.
“They remind us how lucky we are to be part of this country,” said Linnea Grim, education and visitor programs director at Monticello. As part of the ceremony, new citizens share their thoughts after taking the oath. Grim told me some common themes of their remarks are the hard work it took to become citizens and their pride in their new citizenship.
Many Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks and cookouts, but the Monticello ceremony reminds participants that the rights and privileges some people take for granted are the fruit of much effort for others. Past speakers have also emphasized modern Americans must protect what the Founding Fathers established.
“It turns out that citizenship isn’t just a great privilege and a great opportunity, though it is all that,” actor Sam Waterston said at the 2007 ceremony. “It’s also a job.”
Jefferson recognized every generation would have to continue the work he and his colleagues started, so he put much effort into American education. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation [sic], it expects what never was and never will be,” Jefferson wrote.
Roberto Goizueta, who fled socialist Cuba and later became Coca-Cola’s CEO, addressed new citizens at the 1995 Monticello naturalization ceremony. He recalled his own oath of citizenship, his gratitude for his new country, and his sadness for the fate of Cuba. He said everyday Americans must water the tree of liberty: “I challenge you and every other citizen across our nation—whether native-born or naturalized … 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.”