By Susan Sorensen
At exactly 9am on the Fourth of July, Thomas Jefferson’s Chinese gong strikes the hour, and thousands of people who have congregated on Monticello’s sun-soaked west lawn quiet down as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence is read by the Honorable John Charles Thomas: “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In addition to commemorating the birth of our country, the annual gathering at the home of the Declaration of Independence’s author provides an opportunity to celebrate some of the United States’ newest citizens, who have come to the Little Mountain to take the oath of citizenship at the nation’s oldest continuous naturalization ceremony—57 years and counting—held outside a courtroom. The public is welcome, and it’s part of a day-long celebration at Monticello.
During a time when immigration is an explosive political and legal issue, and the treatment and fate of refugees on our southern border is often upsetting, front-page news, it does the heart good to witness several dozen happy, grateful Americans-to-be promise to protect and uphold the principles of the United States.
“Being a citizen is a high honor and privilege,” says Khizr Khan, an immigrant, Charlottesville resident, Gold Star parent, constitutional rights advocate, and the keynote speaker at the 2019 naturalization ceremony. “It is proof of the compassion of America.”
During his speech at this year’s Independence Day event, Khan reminded us that the 76 people from more than 35 countries who were about to become U.S. citizens were potential “Nobel laureates, technology innovators, teachers, bankers, lawyers, health-care providers, employers, professionals, wage workers, with a common theme of dignity, hard work, and dedication to make [their] own life and the life of [their] families and communities better.”
Khan also implored every new citizen to stop by the voter registration tent that had been set up several yards from the stage. “It is your turn now, and every election henceforth, to participate not only by voting, but to remain engaged in your communities, seek elected office, lead your community. Never underestimate the power of the opportunity you have been given by this blessed nation, our nation.”
A fine and sometimes necessary reminder to everyone. Or, as one newly minted American told the crowd when asked to share a few words, “I am humbled, honored, and thankful—and very excited to be voting in the next presidential election.”