What it means to be an American
Published 5:37 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Last week, as we celebrated our nation’s 240th year of independence, I had the profound honor of attending the annual 4th of July celebration at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Each year, that celebration includes a naturalization ceremony in which a group of new citizens takes the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, affirming that they will support and defend the Constitution and our laws against all enemies, foreign and domestic, bearing true faith and allegiance to the same.
There could not be a more fitting place and date for such a ceremony given Jefferson’s role in penning the document that set the American experiment in motion.
The petitioners for citizenship were joined by hundreds of citizens from throughout the area who sought to be reminded of the privileges, but also the solemn obligations we have, as citizens of this great nation. The ceremony and the people who participated are powerful symbols of what it means to be an American.
They came from all corners of the world, drawn to the beacon of freedom and opportunity that our country represents. They followed our laws and navigated the process designed to welcome those who seek to join and strengthen our ranks. They aspire to be part of the tremendous legacy of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and so many others throughout our history, and as they achieved the privileges and rights of a citizen, they achieved equal footing with those great citizens of our past and an equal responsibility to uphold the values for which they fought.
All that we ask in return from these new citizens is that they embrace our nation and its citizens as we embrace them. That they feel the same degree of patriotism and pride in being an American as we do.
That they do all they can to strengthen this country that has welcomed them with open arms — to build it up and to decry those who seek to do it harm. And that they share their story and spirit with their children, their grandchildren, their friends and their neighbors so that all may be reminded of the value and the significance of American citizenship and the price at which it comes.
We must keep this spirit and resolve in mind as we grieve for those who lost their lives last week and the family and friends they leave behind.
Let us remember that we, as Americans, have faced and overcome great challenges in our past, and we have done so due to the capacity of our people to persevere.
Let us remember, as our newest citizens now know just as those who came before us knew, that we owe it to each other as Americans to strengthen our country, especially in times of adversity, by supporting those who sacrifice to serve us and by respecting our fellow citizens.
Robert Hurt, a Republican, represents Lunenburg County in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at his Farmville office at (434) 395-0120.