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Welcoming New Citizens to the American Family

Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett speaks to new citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia, commemorating the lives lost in the September 11 attacks and reminding us of how precious citizenship is.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at a naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia.

We celebrated an extraordinary milestone for 26 individuals—U.S. citizenship.

It was a day of celebration… and a day of remembrance.

Eleven years ago yesterday, on a warm and bright and sunny fall morning, our country suffered one of its darkest moments.

None of us will ever forget where we were when the attacks occurred.  I was watching the Today Show as my daughter got ready for school. After hearing the report that the first plane had hit the North Tower, my daughter and I sat together on her bed, holding hands, and stared in disbelief as Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower.

In the days that followed, all Americans were profoundly moved by the incredible outpouring of sympathy and support from around the world for the devastation we suffered. 

As we marked the anniversary of 9/11, we remember those that were lost. We remember the 2,753 killed in New York, 184 killed at the Pentagon, and 40 killed on Flight 93.

We remembered the heroism of the first responders who courageously, without a moment’s hesitation, rushed into the Twin Towers to help.

We are so grateful for our servicemen and women who have fought for years to keepour country safe and protect our cherished freedoms, including those who have sacrificed their lives defending us.

Valerie Jarrett speaks to new citizens in Alexandra, VA

Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett speaks to new citizens at naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, VA on September 11, 2012 (Photo: City of Alexandria)

For our new citizens, their presence at the town hall yesterday is a testament to the promise of the American dream. It’s the dream that says no matter who you are, where you came from, what your last name is, or who you love, if you come here and work hard, if you are given the chance to play by the same rules and believe in yourself, if you embrace the spirit of infinite possibilities, as President Obama has said, then in this great country, you can make it if you try. 

That’s also why we marked September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Because we are one American family that fundamentally believes I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. And we look out for each other, every single day.

We honored the memory of those we lost on September 11th by welcoming new members into our family.

As our newest Americans, they remind us of how precious citizenship is – of how much it is worth, and why it’s worth protecting, and why we should never take it for granted.

They remind us that citizenship is not just a collection of rights – but also a set of mutual, inextricably linked responsibilities. The promise of America is a gift. And yet, we will only thrive if each of us does our part.

Our newest citizens came from every corner of the Earth-- 21 countries were represented. In fact, the only continent not represented was Antarctica!

From Australia to Peru, from Brazil to Vietnam, they each chose a path on their unique journey that led them to this extraordinary milestone. They came together yesterday to celebrate their new shared identity, as fellow Americans.

Some of them came to this country as young children, because their parents wanted to give them a better life in the land of endless opportunity. Others traveled here as adults, enduring hardship and sacrifice, to provide for their families.

America’s strength has always come from the rich diversity of our people, and from our core decency. As we welcomed our new citizens, we remembered the words of President Obama yesterday morning when he spoke at a memorial service at the Pentagon: “Scripture tells us,” he said, “ ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ There is no better way to honor the best in those who died than by discovering the best in ourselves.”

Yesterday, we welcomed 26 more into our American family. For them and for us all, let us continue to discover the best in ourselves for a brighter tomorrow in this country we love.