Today, we’re celebrating the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. The National Mall is one of America’s greatest national parks. And this World War II Memorial reminds us of the enormous sacrifices made by those who protect our freedoms.
Today is particularly meaningful for me. My wife, Mary, was born in South Africa, and about a dozen years ago she went through a naturalization ceremony. Along with the births of our four children And – I hope – our wedding day, the day she became a U.S. citizen was one of the most meaningful days of her life.
When I asked Mary what she remembered most about that day, she told me she was struck by the extraordinary richness of backgrounds and experiences and by the diversity of the group that took the oath alongside her.
And I’m just as struck by that today: You come from 34 different countries; you speak dozens of different languages; and you each have unique journeys, and obstacles you overcame. All of which led you here. You and your families should be very proud. I certainly am.
But even though each of you comes from different backgrounds, and took different paths to get here, beginning today all of you have one important thing in common: You all have taken the same oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the principles of equality and democracy that it represents. And together, you are the next generation of Americans who will drive America’s economy and prosperity for decades to come.
You see, we are a nation of immigrants. And that’s important for so many reasons, including the diversity and culture of our nation. But particularly for me, as the person who coordinates economic policy for the President, I know just how important immigrants are to our country’s economy and prosperity. Central to this is an entrepreneurial spirit that’s helped lead to revolutionary technologies like the internet, electric cars, and breakthrough treatments to fight cancer and other diseases. And it’s that very entrepreneurial spirit that’s led American immigrants to create some of the world’s most important companies.
None of this should come as a surprise, given as many have observed, the act of immigrating is itself a fundamentally entrepreneurial act. And whether or not you work as an entrepreneur, each of you plays a critical role in our economic success, and thanks to your hard work and determination—the same hard work and your determination that has led you to this ceremony—America’s economy will remain the strongest, most innovative, most durable economy in the world for decades to come.
I hope you will all celebrate this special moment in your lives. After all, being an American citizen comes with amazing freedoms: The freedom to speak your mind, to worship however you choose, and to provide for your families in the way you wish. But as you celebrate these freedoms, I hope you’ll remember that being an American isn’t always easy.
As President Obama has said: “Our system of self-government depends on ordinary citizens doing the hard, frustrating but always essential work of citizenship: Of being informed. Of understanding that the government isn’t some distant thing, but is you. Of speaking out when something is not right. Of helping fellow citizens when they need a hand. Of coming together to shape our country’s course.”
So I encourage each of you to fully participate in our democracy. Because by doing so, you will reinforce the freedoms that you, your children, and your grandchildren will enjoy. I hope that each of you uses your own experiences to improve our country. And as so many immigrants have done before you, leaves America a better place than you found it.
Let me close by saying what a huge honor it is to be here with all of you. Congratulations on becoming our nation’s newest citizens. I wish you and your families the greatest success. May God bless you and the United States of America.