About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Constitution Day Naturalization Ceremony

Rotunda, National Archives Building
September 17, 2018

Good morning! Welcome to the Rotunda of the National Archives. First and foremost congratulations to our 31 new citizens! And thanks to the Alice Deal Middle School for that wonderful recitation of the Preamble to the Constitution.

Thank you to Chief Judge Beryl Howell for presiding over our ceremony today.

The National Archives is proud to host this naturalization ceremony each year with the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the United States District Courts for the District of Columbia.

Today is the 231st anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution.

There is no better place to become an American citizen than here in this room. Behind me is the Constitution, which is the basis on which the United States Government is structured. In your naturalization oath of allegiance, you pledge to uphold this Constitution.

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 three 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, Paolo Ferriero, 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 14 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 I’d like to introduce our keynote speaker…

Caroline Kennedy was the first woman to serve as United States Ambassador to Japan. Her tenure was marked by the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the historic visits of President Obama to Hiroshima and Prime Minister Abe to Pearl Harbor. As Ambassador, she supported economic empowerment of women and worked to increase student exchange between the United States and Japan. She strengthened cultural ties between countries through the International Poetry Exchange Project, a program she co-founded that brought together high school students from New York City, Japan, and South Korea with the goal of promoting cross-cultural dialogue through the exchange of poetry.

Ambassador Kennedy is an attorney and the author/editor of 11 books on such subjects as law, civics, and poetry. From 2002 to 2013, she played a leading role in New York City school reform efforts, heading the Office of Strategic Partnerships and serving as Vice Chairwoman of the Fund for Public Schools, transforming the Fund into a system-wide vehicle for private support of public school reform, and helping to create the first K-12 arts curriculum funded by the private sector.

Caroline Kennedy serves as the Honorary President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and is Co-Chair of the Senior Advisory Committee of the Harvard Institute of Politics. She is also a Director of the Boeing Company and a Trustee of the Asia Society.

Please welcome Ambassador Caroline Kennedy…