I wish you had been with me Friday morning. I got to spend an hour in a room filled with people who make America great, have always made America great and will always make America great, again and again.
There were 50 of them sitting in the Lexington Catholic High School auditorium, surrounded by family and friends. They introduced themselves by name, the town where they live and the country where they were born.
Then each of them added: “I am proud to become an American citizen.”
They came from 29 nations, including Russia, Iraq, China, Cuba, India, France, Canada, Germany, Yemen and Colombia. They now live in such places as Lexington, Frankfort, Pikeville, Simpsonville, Waddy and Carlisle.
Each raised his or her right hand and took the Oath of Allegiance, renouncing “all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty” and promising to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood then declared them our newest citizens and addressed them as “my fellow Americans. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?”
Hood explained to the audience that each new citizen had demonstrated a functional command of English and had studied U.S. history and civics. Among other things, they had been tested on their ability to name the president, vice president, governor, speaker of the House of Representatives, Supreme Court justices and other officials.
“You know,” Hood mused, “I’ve often wondered just how many of our current citizens could pass that test.”
These new citizens were welcomed by representatives of local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, whose members trace their ancestry back nearly two and a half centuries to the nation’s first soldiers and patriots.
“This is truly a great nation, and it’s made up of many people just like yourselves,” said Georgia Clemons, who urged them to “join in and be a good neighbor.”
“We are a nation of immigrants and their children,” Mary Ann Hayes reminded them.
“While our history is important to us and we’re proud of our past, we believe that the strength of our nation is not in our lineage but in the freedoms our ancestors fought for,” Carol Behr said. “We welcome you here today as friends, fellow countrymen.”
In an atmosphere where President Donald Trump ran an anti-immigrant campaign and has sought to ban refugees and immigrants from several nations, it was notable how many speakers at this naturalization ceremony described their own immigrant roots.
Hood spoke of his ancestors from Ireland and Italy, adding that every American has a similar story unless they are a full-blooded Native American.
“And just think,” he said, “if they had made us take a citizenship test, we might have had some problems.”
Most of the speakers also emphasized the new citizens’ right and duty to vote.
“It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about things that you don’t like,” said Nita Smith of the League of Women Voters. “But every American citizen has the responsibility to become part of democracy and vote. This is a responsibility that some Americans have become very lax about. I hope that you will take it very seriously.”
Alison Lundergan Grimes, noting that this was the 70th naturalization ceremony she has attended since becoming Kentucky’s secretary of state in 2012, said that when she was re-elected in 2015 only 30 percent of Kentucky voters cast ballots.
“It’s time that we change a minority of people determining what’s happening for the majority of us,” she said.
“Here in Kentucky, y’all means we welcome all,” Grimes told our newest citizens. “You are the courage, you are the compassion, you are the community that the commonwealth of Kentucky needs now more than ever.”