This week, I had the honor of speaking to group of Newly Minted American Citizens who were sworn in at National Archive in front of actual Constitution. Every American should go to a Swearing-In at least once a Year. Emotional Reminder of all that is Good about our Nation. Here’s a copy of my speech.
My Fellow New Americans
I am Roger Bennett. It is an honor to stand amongst you and congratulate you on this life-changing occasion… your Naturalization Ceremony. In the week of Constitution Day no less. The day we honor – the framing of the constitution itself on its 235th anniversary. The foundational document that charts the course for the American ideal
I became an American on June 1st 2018. I have stood where you have stood. I have been surrounded by a delirious group of recently minted new Americans. Incredible souls of every race, ethnicity, background and human form.
That act of becoming an American citizen remains one of the most profound, beautiful, and deeply meaningful of my life. I was sworn in at the Pearl Street Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. One of 163 individuals raising our right hands. Hailing from 47 different countries around the world. Perhaps the most powerful moment came immediately after we had been sworn in. The room was still thick with the sense of awe, meaning and relief. A combination of feelings you no doubt are experiencing some variation of yourselves this very second. Once the formalities had been completed, we began to chat… as you will. We shared stories of our journeys. I learned some of my fellow new citizens had experienced long, painful odysseys to be in that room. Trekking huge distances across deserts or frigid mountains ranges. Others had survived wars, famine, or refugee struggle
The one thing we all shared. That bound us – and propelled us, as new Americans, was a profound sense of what the United States has meant to us all in our life times – particularly in our moments of challenge. The idea of America had acted as a beacon of hope, and optimism. Given us Courage. And Tenacity. The belief our lives could be different. Better. And the strength to pursue that belief and change our future.
That is what makes this room special. And that truth is also what makes this nation so singular.
I grew up in Liverpool England. A city which in the 1980s was overrun by mass unemployment. A heroin epidemic. And besides the football, and the music, there was an all-pervasive hopelessness. My great grandfather had fled Ukraine by boat at the turn of the 20th century, and was actually headed to Chicago, Illinois. But when the boat docked to refuel in Liverpool, he glimpsed the one tall building on the Liverpool skyline. He thought he was in New York, and got off a stop early. Thus my family were marooned for four generations in Liverpool rather than the American Promised Land of our Dreams.
As a kid, whenever life felt dark in Liverpool. I told myself I was merely an American trapped in an Englishman’s body. And though I had never been to the United States, I had the American flag and the Statue of Liberty painted on my bedroom wall. They were the last thing i saw every night before I went to sleep. My light in the darkness. Only by inhaling everything American – the movies, television shows, music, books, clothes and knock-off pairs of Ray Bans – could I believe life could be lived in glorious technicolor, unlike the northwest of England, where life was grimly ground out in black and white. It was the American idea that helped me survive, giving me the belief my life could be lived with a sense of joy, hope, love, and laughter.
Notions I made real by moving here at the earliest opportunity, becoming not only a citizen, but a gent who, in my own imagination, loves the USA even more than Bruce Springsteen. The American Idea has been the central one around which I have organized my life. I have now been here for 29 years. Met my wife – a New Yorker. Had four kids – all who speak with American accents. I am elated to say: The love I feel for the United States – forged naively as a kid – still burns so brightly. Yet, as an adult, I am aware that it has matured. It now exists as the kind of love where you know the object of your affection, like everything in life, has strengths and weaknesses, and that being in a love means you commit to working hard at that relationship and never taking it for granted.
The document behind me – The Constitution… our constitution begins with the iconic phrase, “We the people.” You are now part of that “We.” I can tell you from experience. This moment of becoming a citizen is a personal transformation. One that turns your American dreams formally into an American reality. To become a citizen means to assume rights and responsibilities: the “right to vote” is amongst the most thrilling and crucial. Despite that change. I ask you this: Never forget the Core Dream which brought you here. It is a shared dream, that should burn brightly within the heart of every American citizen. A commitment to love this nation – and better it, by being perpetually aware of the difference between that American dream – and American realities – and to dedicate yourselves to closing the gap between the two.
Because this Constitution that we revere and celebrate today is proof of the possibility to thrive through change. Indeed, the genius of America is that we can change. Martin Luther King, Susan B Anthony, Ida B. Wells, Harvey Milk, Cesar Chavez, Grace Lee Boggs are all proof of that. American lives committed to pursuing change, with Courage. Optimism. And Hope. Daring this country to live up to its potential. That is what makes America extraordinary, and now all of you are a part of that work. Let us lift up that mantle together, understanding our capacity, our responsibility as citizens is to dedicate ourselves to change for the betterment of all. As the great American Poet Langston Hughes said:
“Let American be America again. The land that never has been yet and yet must be.”
Our task now is to dream together. And ground those dreams in our realities… I wish you all Enormous Congratulations. And… Courage.