This morning, Governor Terry McAuliffe spoke at the 53rd annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello, welcoming nearly 80 new Americans, who took the oath of citizenship during the event.
The following is a copy of his keynote address:
Good morning my soon-to-be fellow Americans!
Let me begin by thanking the board of Thomas Jefferson Foundation and President Leslie Greene Bowman for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. Thanks as well to Judge Thomas for your contribution to this great day.
It is truly an honor to be here.
Thanks as well to members of our armed forces and their families for their service to our nation.
And I want to especially thank the nearly 80 new American citizens for sharing this great celebration with me.
Today, you will take the oath of citizenship and become a member of the greatest country in the world.
We are the nation where individual liberty finally claimed a firm foothold.
And our bold spirit has grown stronger and brighter, illuminating the hopes and dreams of freedom lovers in every corner of our world, from the beaches of Normandy to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It is fitting that each year we gather here at Monticello to celebrate with men, women and children who have come from around the globe to become citizens of the United States of America.
A visitor to Monticello once observed that Jefferson “placed his mind, like his house, on a lofty height, whence he might contemplate the whole universe.”
Jefferson was a gracious host to visitors from around the world, who arrived for dinner, a glass of wine or two, and many hours of conversation.
Monticello was not only a guesthouse for the world, but a permanent home for hundreds of works of art and books that shaped this unique man.
If Monticello was a reflection of the man, his library provided a glimpse into a mind that was both super-human and contradictory.
Jefferson bought books at considerable expense, sending crates of them back from Paris, London and Amsterdam to Monticello, as well as to his friends Benjamin Franklin and James Madison.
While in Paris, he even managed to secure the writings of the French philosopher Voltaire, who was banned for religious blasphemy and political sedition.
No need to ask why Jefferson was willing to risk a tangle with French censors to get his hands on that book.
The influence of French freedom lovers is woven deep into Jefferson’s words in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and, of course, the Declaration of Independence.
“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.”
Voltaire made the same point with his usual pizzazz. He wrote:
“God is not on the side of the big battalions, but of the best shots.”
America is, in fact, a nation of best shots.
It is our birthright.
That was literally true, as demonstrated by Virginian Daniel Morgan and his sharpshooters, who were so feared by the British during the Revolution.
But I am speaking in a broader sense.
We are a nation of superlatives.
The smartest, the most courageous, the fiercest risk-takers.
The earliest settlers didn’t risk their lives to come to the New World hoping that happiness would then rain down on them from heaven.
They came here to pursue happiness.
To hunt it down and seize the endless opportunities that eventually stretched from ocean to ocean.
It’s no coincidence that the frontier was opened up by Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.
He was of course the quintessential sharpshooter in every imaginable subject that attracted his interest.
He was Governor of Virginia and President of the United States.
He was also an architect, astronomer, philosopher, jurist, wine expert, agricultural researcher, scientist, inventor, educator and linguist.
As I walk across Capitol Square in Richmond, it’s amazing to think that Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Patrick Henry and so many other larger-than-life Virginians were all contemporaries.
It’s a little comforting to know that they didn’t always get along, but they managed to work things out.
Today, it sometimes seems like our country is in danger of losing its edge.
Too often we end up in a circular firing squad rather than working together to solve the challenges we face as a nation.
But we’ve been there before, and we’ve always managed to steady our aim and move forward again.
The reason is that we continue to receive fresh battalions of sharpshooters.
You are the newest battalion to arrive.
You are overachievers from around the globe, and you came here because you wanted to live in an entire nation of overachievers.
Jefferson himself was the son of an immigrant, but even he could not have fully realized how important future immigrants would be to keeping the American dream in focus.
More than any other place on the globe, the United States would not exist were it not for the contributions, large and small, of immigrants who came to these shores and made their own unique mark on our way of life.
Many of us trace our histories back to brave men and women who risked everything to realize that dream.
My great-grandparents came to this country from County Cork, Ireland, in the 1850s seeking a better life.
Three generations later, I was elected Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, an honor I share with Patrick Henry, James Monroe and, of course, Thomas Jefferson.
As the great-grandson of immigrants, I am here today to thank you for believing enough in our great nation to put in the time and the effort to become citizens.
Each of you has worked hard to get to where you are today.
You went through a process that is far more rigorous than anything those of us who were born here go through.
You are here to achieve great success for yourself and your families.
But you also have a responsibility to work together for a better nation.
We need your skills, your energy, your innovative spirit and your faith in the ideals that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently asserted.
Now, I’ve got some marching orders for you, so look sharp out there.
We need you to work to build a new economy here in Virginia and across the nation.
I am excited that many of you are already doing your part.
Zaid from Iraq is planning to get a degree in business management.
Brian from Canada has already started his own company.
His wife Debra is teaching the next generation of business leaders here at the University of Virginia.
We need you to be advocates for education — not just for your own children, but for all children.
We need you to be advocates for access to health care.
I understand that one of our new citizens today is a dentist from Panama.
Tatiana, I hope to see you at the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise County later this month.
They are always in need of more dentists.
Finally, we need you to reignite a spirit of public engagement in our political system.
This is at the core of what it means to be a new citizen.
The enthusiasm you have as new Americans is truly inspiring.
Habacuc from Mexico can’t wait to cheer for American athletes in the Olympics now that they are truly his home team.
But of course far more important than that, I was happy to see many of you express excitement at the opportunity to vote, the most precious right granted to you today.
I urge you to stay involved in your communities, stay informed about what is happening and raise your voice every chance you get.
And most of all, I urge you to go to the polls every single time they are open.
Jefferson believed that all people have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This is not a passive right.
It takes hard work.
You’ll be frustrated at times, but you will also have the satisfaction of having pursued and achieved the happiness that can only exist in a society in which all people are free to accomplish their full purpose in life.
Now, if I may be so bold as to put a few words in the mouth of Mr. Jefferson:
“Welcome to Monticello. Make yourself at home. Today, you are truly Americans.”