Opinion: Embracing Our Diversity

Opinion: Embracing Our Diversity

Connolly leads Pledge of Allegiance for new citizens.

Connolly leads Pledge of Allegiance for new citizens. Photo Contributed

If you can ever find the time to attend a federal naturalization ceremony in Fairfax County for new citizens, do it. It reinvigorates one’s patriotism and reminds us all how lucky we are to be Americans.

I’ve participated in several of the large swearing in ceremonies that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service holds each year in Fairfax. After leading the Pledge of Allegiance for the hundreds of newly-minted citizens and their proud families, I have the honor of addressing them about what it means to be an American.

I tell them that America, a country of immigrants, is a place of opportunity where you can pursue your dreams and raise your families without fearing that somebody’s government is going to tell you what to think, how to express yourself, what to believe, or how to worship. Too often, we take these rights for granted, but many of our new neighbors do not.

These new citizens come to Fairfax from all over the world. Many come from places where they experienced violence or suppression of thought, or the suppression of their right to participate in their government. Many are professionals skilled in medicine, technology, and engineering, or entrepreneurs and small business owners who have worked hard and contributed to Northern Virginia’s robust economy.

And when their day finally comes and they recite their Oath of Allegiance to earn the title “American citizen,” their pride is palpable, the mood is festive, and the respect they show for their new flag and their new nation is inspiring.

The overall ceremony is an emotional and inspiring experience for everyone in the room, as small children clutch American flags, spouses hug, and tears well in the eyes of many of the family members in attendance.

These new Americans have helped change the face of Fairfax County and the Northern Virginia region in many ways over the last three decades. The diversity of our residents has enriched the fabric of our society and their efforts have helped our economy grow. Today, Fairfax County has the second highest median family income in the nation, some of the best public schools in the nation, a quality of life second to none, and we continue to create jobs in the county at a rate that outpaces most other communities across the nation.

Here in Fairfax County we have embraced the benefits that diversity brings to our community, and we are better for it.