Good morning. Thank you, Director Sheehy, and thank you to everyone here. It is a privilege to join you and all your families on such an important day.  

Let me tell you that 40 years ago, I was sitting where all of you are today – for my swearing in ceremony to become a U.S. citizen.  It is a day I will never forget, and I will tell you, I will never forget this day as well.  

I hope that this day is a very special one for all of you and for all of your families.  It is a day to celebrate your achievements….your hard work….your courage… your sacrifices.  

You have all given a lot to be here today, and for that we are enormously grateful.  Many of you have left families and loved ones behind; and communities where you were born and raised.  And many of you or your families have made difficult journeys to come to this country.  

However and whatever brought you here, let me just say thank you.  

Thank you for pledging allegiance to a set of ideas and a set of principles, not to any one person, but rather to a set of ideas that are larger than any one of us.  You committed yourself to this Republic, for which it stands, for justice, for liberty, for equality.  

You have been bestowed a special set of rights, but you’ve also agreed to a certain set of obligations – to live peacefully, to uphold the laws, to speak out for others, and to contribute to your communities.  I know you will do that well.  

That is the basic compact that our country was founded upon.  This is how and why we welcome immigrants from around the world.  This is what gives us our unique strength.  I can see this from the State Department as Deputy Secretary and everywhere I travel in the world.

We are certainly not perfect; and our history is filled with difficult lessons and chapters; and we are striving for that more perfect union with each generation of Americans.  You are now such an important and powerful part of our story.  And, again, for that, I say thank you.   

Longshot Story

When I think back to my naturalization ceremony 40 years ago, I was just a teenager.  I was a little nervous.  I was excited about the future.  And I was so thankful to my mom and dad.  It was my parents that took this big risk to come here.  

My dad tells this great immigrant story about showing up in New York City with just $14 dollars and a bus ticket. Now, we’ve heard that story so many times….sometimes he had $22 dollars….sometimes he had $14 dollars….but you get the idea.  He and my mother came here from India, where they were teachers, but they started this journey with next to nothing. 

They had lived through a tumultuous time.  They were part of India’s difficult partition and then India’s own Declaration of Independence in 1947.  They overcame adversity.  They worked so hard for their kids.  And they came here seeking a better future.  They left so much behind, but they were greeted with so much promise and opportunity.  

Eventually, we settled in a small town called Johnstown, Pennsylvania. 

We were the first Indian-American family there, and so many people welcomed us and helped us.  My 4th grade teacher, my high school hockey coach, and so many more. We performed this balancing act familiar to so many new immigrants: we held onto our cultural traditions while adopting new American customs. 

We made Indian food while learning to love the local cuisine.  Chapatis along with hoagies.  We celebrated traditional Indian holidays, and our new American ones. Diwali along with Christmas.

My mother used to take us to school wearing her traditional Indian saree – and I came to feel most comfortable in a pair of jeans.  My dad grew up playing cricket; but I became a little league baseball player.  It was the best of both worlds.  

Being American

I don’t want to suggest that every journey is easy or pain-free.  Ours certainly wasn’t.  

There were those people that heard our accents and saw our clothes or traditions and thought they needed to tell us what it meant to be a “real American.”  

My parents’ advice to us was to keep our heads down, work hard, pursue our passions, and to stay humble. 

That’s what I tried to do. And that commitment took me into a winding journey of service.

I served in the U.S. Air Force. I worked on Capitol Hill. I went to law school and worked in the private sector.    

I’ve made my way to the State Department in three different capacities – one of them as the U.S. Ambassador to India, the country our family left six decades earlier.  

My story, in effect, came full circle. Talk about a longshot tale. Talk about catching a lightning strike of good fortune.  

Still, I don’t see my story as unique or extraordinary or all that different from millions of other immigrants who strive to pursue the American dream. 

In part, that’s because I truly believe that the United States offers vast opportunities for those who work for it.  

And it’s because I know what it took for each of you to reach this ceremony. I know that all of you are ready to keep fighting, sacrificing, stepping forward to earn this title of “American citizen.”

Today, you swore an oath and you made that official. 

Now, you can now get that blue passport – the world’s most valuable travel document. And members of our team from the San Francisco Passport Agency are here to help you get started.

Now, you can circle the next Election Day on the calendar and make plans to pull that lever at the ballot box. 

Now, you can enjoy the rights that come with this oath.

Embracing our rights. Fulfilling our responsibilities. Upholding our citizenship, even as we never cease to bring our diverse history, heritage, and cultures to the table…it’s what makes America a special place.  

And each of us, one citizen at a time, can work to make our country more equal and a more equitable place.

As President Reagan said in one of his final speeches at the White House, immigration is “one of the most important sources of America’s greatness.  [America] leads the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people – our strength – from every country and every corner of the world.  And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation.”  We can’t ever lose this signature American advantage.  


Let me close with one short story about what it means to be American in my own view, and it involves my own mother.  A few years after I became a US citizen, my mom decided it was time for her to become a citizen too.  She studied hard for her test, and of course, she passed with flying colors.  

On the day of her naturalization ceremony….my mother was given a small US flag, like the one you have here with you.  She was so proud on that day….and we were so proud of her.  She came home and she placed that small American flag on our kitchen windowsill…..right next to her Indian spices.  

There was my mother….someone who wore traditional Indian clothes, cooked Indian food, spoke with an accent, and who came from different religious and ethnic backgrounds than her neighbors….but she was unquestionably a great American.  

She worked so hard as special education teacher; she paid her taxes; she contributed to her community; she looked out for her friends; and she loved this country.  

Being a great American – or just being American – is about giving back and finding and serving that larger purpose.  It does not matter what you look like, it does not matter what country you come from, or whether you dress or speak a certain way.  Being a great American is so much more than that, so much deeper, and so very special.  

I get to see that every day at the State Department with our great and diverse workforce; I saw that when I served in the military; and I saw that in our marine guard force at the Embassy in New Delhi….young marines, many who were immigrants to the United States, but who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect others in the name of defending this nation.  These were great Americans.  

And that’s why I’m so thankful to have ended up here in the United States.  To make this journey with family and friends….and now to make it with all of you.  To give back and to help others along the way.  

Thank you again for putting your deep faith into the promise of America. We are stronger because of you.

Congratulations and thank you so much!

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future