Welcome Remarks for Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony
Rotunda, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
December 16, 2019
Good morning! And welcome to the National Archives. First and foremost congratulations to our 30 new citizens! And thanks to the District of Columbia International School for that wonderful recitation of the Preamble to the Constitution.
It’s a great honor to have Chief Judge Beryl Howell here again presiding over our ceremony.
Yesterday was Bill of Rights Day. President Franklin Roosevelt first proclaimed it on December 15, 1941, and the day has served as a reminder that we should not take for granted the rights protected in this foundational document.
Each year for this anniversary we host a 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 in front of these hallowed documents. These Charters of Freedom make up our foundation as U.S. citizens.
Behind me is the Constitution, which remains the basis on which our Federal 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. They risked their lives, their families’ lives, and all they owned in signing it. We have them to thank for our freedoms today.
And to my left is the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These amendments were added to the Constitution 228 years ago. They are the basic personal rights and freedoms guaranteed to every American, which you will exercise every day. On December 15, 1952, at the ceremony to unveil the Charters of Freedom in this Rotunda, President Harry Truman declared that “In my opinion the Bill of Rights is the most important part of the Constitution of the United States—the only document in the world that protects the citizen against his Government.”
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, 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. My great-grandfather David Buckley arrived in Boston from County Cork, in 1883 aboard the Samaria. He petitioned to become a U.S. citizen in 1892 in Salem, Massachusetts.
Many Americans have stories like mine, and now you, our newly naturalized citizens, will have your own journey to share. We have over 15 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. And 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. And the National Archives tells everyone’s story.
Today, we have decided to do something a little different for the remarks portion of our ceremony. We have asked that three of you––our newly naturalized citizens––speak to us about what it feels like to become an American. Please welcome Amy Boima Challe, Chiseul Kim, and Andrea Irene Argueta Aragon