Mount Vernon Saturday, May 25, was a beautiful, albeit windy day on Mason Neck, and I had the honor of participating in a very moving ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and hosted by Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. The special citizenship ceremony included 51 new Americans, formerly of 28 different countries.
The program began with Mrs. Wylie Raab, First Regent of Gunston Hall, reminding the new citizens that, “democracy is not a spectator sport.”
The presentation of colors was by local high school students, who are part of the U.S. Sea Cadet Corps, Alexandria Division, and then the national anthem was performed by the Mount Vernon Brass with everyone joining in to sing.
Sarah Taylor, District Director of the USCIS, led the new citizens in the Oath of Allegiance. There are few moments that make one feel as patriotic as hearing dozens of people recite that simple pledge to cut their previous ties and loyalties and declare fidelity to the U.S. One shining example was a young man, formerly of Ghana, who has already been serving the U.S. as a Marine Lance Corporal. When asked during his interview what it will be like to become an American citizen, he remarked “Just like being a Marine — awesome!”
David Mercer, a George Mason descendent and Alexandria lawyer, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. Mercer is a direct descendent of John Mercer, the uncle and guardian of George Mason. David gave a moving and patriotic speech. He did a great job of telling the new citizens the importance of participation in democracy, quoting Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen.”
He went on to say that the process of democracy in order to succeed depends on all of us. “To protect freedoms and liberty — we as citizens must participate in the democratic process and in our communities. How else will our elected officials hear us unless we actively engage in our federal, state and local elections?” he asked.
After walking the audience through the responsibilities placed upon the citizen, he ended with a quote from President Obama, “For more than two centuries, this nation has been a beacon of hope and opportunity ... generation after generation of immigrants have come to these shores because they believe that in America all things are possible.”
After David, I had the honor of speaking and shared a little Memorial Day history with everyone. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day. General John A. Logan declared Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. The first large observation was held that year at Arlington Cemetery. General and Mrs. Grant presided over the ceremonies. Members of Grand Army of the Republic meandered through the cemetery placing flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. Memorial Day was finally declared a national holiday in 1971, designated to be the last Monday in May.