This week I had the great honor of delivering remarks at the US District Court House in Utica to 60 individuals from 22 countries who were taking the oath of US citizenship in front of a packed house of family, friends and supporters. I’ve been to naturalization ceremonies before and it’s something that I think everyone should attend at least once. Amongst all the chaos and division we’re seeing in this country right now, watching people who have fled their home countries or immigrated here from all over the world officially become U.S. citizens is a breath of fresh air and serves as a powerful reminder of one of the founding principles this country is built upon. I was humbled to be asked to speak during this special occasion and honored to shake the hands of each and every person taking the oath.
Here’s what I had to say and I hope I was able to provide a message of hope and welcome to our new neighbors.
Good morning. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a great honor to be here with you all this morning to celebrate such an important moment in your lives. Today, you’re officially American citizens. This is a big deal.
I’d like to take a moment to pause and have you all look around the room. You’re looking at America – in a very pure form. People of different colors and languages and backgrounds and beliefs. THIS are such a large part of what makes this country so unique. We’re glad you’re here.
I’ve lived in the Utica area my entire life and have seen the impact and importance of welcoming our new neighbors from around the world. It’s changed our city for the better, giving those of us who have lived here our entire lives a look at cultures, customs and (my favorite) foods from around the world – all right here in Utica.
My great-grandmother came here on a boat from Poland about 100 years ago. She lived in Utica her whole life in a simple green house not far from here, in West Utica on Saratoga Street. She made the journey alone across an ocean (as the story goes with nothing but a rosary and a ham sandwich) because of the promise of a better future for herself and her family. That journey, like your journey was an act of great courage. And as I stand here today, I’m reminded that I’m a direct byproduct of that single act of courage. I have a better life because of her.
Over the past several years I’ve gotten to know several of our new neighbors from around the world who have shared their stories with me. Stories of how and why they came to Utica to start over. Many were escaping persecution, hardship and others came because of the promise of something better. Their stories and your stories are an inspiration to all of us and a reminder of what we’re capable of with hard work and determination.
My favorite part of today’s ceremony is when each of you are called up to receive your certificate. Your name will be called and we’ll say that you are ‘Formerly of’ —— Somalia or Yemen, etc. I think that’s a beautiful acknowledgement not only of your past and your heritage, but an acknowledgment of where you are now and what lies ahead – that you are are now an American citizen.
So I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts. At the services my family attends on Sundays they usually start the service with a note of welcome that I think is also very fitting for today (and I’m paraphrasing).
Whoever you are you are welcome here. Wherever you’re from you are welcome here. Whatever faiths you have known and whomever you love you are welcome here. I hope you all feel welcome in this community and this country.
Because no matter what you may hear on the news, or from people in positions of great power, always remember that it is our differences, not our similarities that make this country great. There are people in this room, in this city and all across this country who are so happy that you are here, that will help you, and that want to see you succeed in building a better life.
You are Americans – and your hopes aspirations, beliefs, and dreams are as as valuable to this country as anyone else’s. Never let anyone ever make you think otherwise. Ever.
So let me be the first to say congratulations to you all, and to welcome you home.