Welcome remarks for Constitution Day Naturalization Ceremony
Rotunda, National Archives Building, Washington DC
September 14, 2016
Thank you to the students of the Cardozo Education Campus for that wonderful rendition of the Preamble!
Good morning! And welcome to the Rotunda of the National Archives. First and foremost congratulations to our 30 new citizens!
It is a great honor to have former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright here with us to celebrate your American citizenship. And thank you to Chief Judge Beryl Howell for presiding today.
The National Archives is proud to host this naturalization ceremony with the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the United States District Courts for the District of Columbia.
There is no better place to become an American citizen than here in front of the Charters of Freedom. Behind me is the Constitution, which is the basis on which the U.S. Government is structured. The Preamble, which the students just recited, contains three important words: “We, The People.” That brief phrase captures the essence of our democracy. The Constitution gives the power to the people.
Over to my right is the Declaration of Independence, the parchment that our Founding Fathers signed in 1776 in Philadelphia setting us free from England. It took courage for them to sign it. They risked their lives, their families’ lives, and all they owned. We have them to thank for the freedoms we enjoy today.
And to my left is the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These first 10 spell out the basic personal rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to every American. This now includes you! They include freedom of speech, religion, and the press; the right to petition the government; the right to bear arms; and the right to due process of law and a speedy and fair trial. You will exercise these rights every day.
These documents, these Charters of Freedom, make up our foundation as U.S. citizens.
I am the grandson of Italian immigrants and great-grandson of Irish immigrants. Using passenger lists here at the National Archives, I discovered that my grandfather, at age 15, arrived in Boston from Naples aboard the ship Commonwealth on March 22, 1903. My grandmother, Antonia Giorgio, also from Naples, arrived on March 8, 1909, aboard the Romantic.
Many Americans have stories like mine, and now you, our newly naturalized citizens, will have your own journey to share. We have over 13 billion pages of records here at the National Archives. Becoming American citizens makes you part of the National Archives too. Your naturalization records will be part of our holdings. Someday your descendants will search our records to discover your history.
Here at the National Archives, history comes to life through our records; we house the tangible reminders of where we have been, how far we have come, and what is possible for each and every American. Each record, large or small, is a representation of a greater story. The National Archives tells everyone’s story.
Now to introduce our speaker today…
Madeleine Albright served as the 64th Secretary of State of the United States. In 1997, she was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Government. From 1993 to 1997, Dr. Albright served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and was a member of the President’s Cabinet. She is a Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Dr. Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. She is also the president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation and a member of an advisory body, the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board. In 2012, she was chosen by President Obama to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of her contributions to international peace and democracy. Dr. Albright was born in Prague, immigrated to the United States at the age of 11. Secretary Albright is with us today as an individual who, like all of you, was not born in the United States. She became a U.S. citizen in 1957.
Welcome Madame Secretary!