From John Hennessy:
Last weekend, I had the true honor of giving the keynote address at a naturalization ceremony at Chatham. I had never been to a naturalization ceremony before. Thirty-six people became citizens, and probably 150 came to watch.
I have been involved in thousands of public programs in my career, but this ranked in the top five, easily. Witnessing something that truly matters is always a powerful thing, and this mattered–to the people receiving their citizenship, and, truly, to the people looking on as well. The day included none of the strained, polite applause that characterizes graduations or award ceremonies. Instead, there was unadulterated joy–from the participants and those watching.
The invitation to speak prompted some thinking about the nexus between history, citizenship, and our ongoing pursuit of a better nation. Here is what I had to say.
From the first days of our nation, Americans have challenged America to be better. It’s a noisy process, sometimes raucous, sometimes even ungraceful. But the result is unmistakable: from its beginning, our nation has traveled an arc of change that has led us away from oppression and toward equality and justice. We have meandered to be sure, and sometimes we have taken steps backward. But the general arc of change is undeniable: by the efforts of every generation we have progressed, become a better nation–more just, more tolerant.
Citizenship is an invitation to join in that process of change—to join the chorus of Americans challenging America to be better. We challenge ourselves in a million ways, by acts and words. A gesture on a street corner challenges others to be as kind. Putting our children on the school bus each morning challenges us to be as conscientious. We challenge America to improve by voting or volunteering or raking your neighbor’s leaves, by teaching tolerance and confronting intolerance.
Joining this process of national improvement is perhaps the greatest of all the privileges of being an American citizen.
As we sit here today, I ask you to think for a moment about the path to citizenship. Continue reading