Taking the Oath in America’s Great Outdoors

Earlier this month, as thousands of people visited our national parks, trekking through the Smoky Mountains and Everglades, or marveling at the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, nearly 100 people visited a national park for very different reasons: to become American citizens.  In raising their right hands, people from all over the world took the oath of citizenship at Fort Scott National Historic Site in Kansas.   

I can’t think of places more appropriate to welcome a new generation of American citizens than our country’s national parks.  These parks, which are owned by all Americans, are not only places of stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife, but across our country, the nearly 400 national parks preserve our nation’s fascinating history and protect our rich cultural heritage. 

That’s why last year, the National Park Service enthusiastically supported the renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) extending a partnership to hold naturalization ceremonies in America’s national parks. 

Since then, the National Park Service has hosted more than 30 naturalization ceremonies, in which over 1,000 people have become American citizens.

These captivating ceremonies have taken place under a 3,000 year-old sequoia tree at Kings Canyon, on the rim of the spectacular Grand Canyon, on the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg National Military Park, and at the foot of the reflecting pool at the iconic Lincoln Memorial.  Such historic and picturesque sites provide an ideal backdrop, where our nation’s new citizens can learn about and reflect on American identity and the responsibilities of citizenship. 

I wanted to share a few personal remarks from park superintendents who have written about their experiences in hosting naturalization ceremonies:

Sarah Craighead, Superintendent, Death Valley National Park, California
It was just such a pleasure to watch these new citizens as they took the oath and came up for their certificates.  They were happy, their families were happy.  It was a beautiful day, in an amazingly beautiful place.  It was one of the most important things that I've ever done in my entire 32-year career with the National Park Service.

Nancy A. Nelson, Superintendent, Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts
As I stepped up to welcome the assembled crowd, joined now by many passersby, I was moved by the diversity of their faces and their countries of origin…50 people from 29 different countries!  What a strong reminder that we are all part of a global family.  These new citizens will be our connections to countries and cultures around the world – they will broaden our understanding of our world, enrich our “American experience,” and make our country stronger and more resilient as we go forward to meet the challenges of the future. 

Thomas E. Ross, Superintendent, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, New York
A sunny, cool spring day greeted the first naturalization ceremony ever held at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. The soft pink blooms of the Japanese cherry trees in front of the porte-cochere greeted the guests as they made their way onto Sagamore Hill’s piazza.  By 9:00 AM, 50 prospective citizens, representing 35 countries from around the world, took their seats on the porch overlooking the famed west lawn.  From the very spot where Theodore Roosevelt addressed hundreds of ordinary citizens and met with dignitaries and world leaders at the “Summer White House” (between 1901 and 1909), U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert administered the Oath of Allegiance.  A lively crowd of friends and family cheered each of the new citizens and joined in the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” 

For more information on citizenship ceremonies in national parks, please visit our website.

Jonathan B. Jarvis is the Director of the National Park Service