April 27, 2017

Naturalization Ceremony

Hine Hall Auditorium
Indianapolis, Indiana

Welcome and Acknowledgements

Thank you for that introduction, Chief Judge Magnus-Stinson, and thank you for presiding over today’s ceremony. I’m proud to say that the chief judge is a graduate of the IU McKinney School of Law here at IUPUI.

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to IUPUI.

Congratulations, my fellow Americans. You come from 39 countries and bring with you different traditions, different religions, and different backgrounds. You are all here for the same purpose: to join this United States of America as its newest citizens. But what path did you take to get here?

There Once Was a Boy

That question reminds me of a story. In the 1970s, there was a boy who grew up in Iran. Neither of his parents finished high school, but both of them worked very hard and knew the value of education.

One day, his father gave the boy this advice: get your education and take it as far as you can go. Understanding the great strength of American higher education, his father put him on a plane to the United States, not knowing whether he would ever see his son again.

The boy grew to be a man, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, seeing his father only twice more in his life.

His father’s advice and act of selflessness have shaped the man’s career ever since—as a university professor, an administrator, and a strong advocate for the openness of American higher education to people from around the world. That’s what makes American higher education the best in the world.

I was that boy, and twenty-five years ago, I was in the same position that you are in today. Just like you, I took the oath of American citizenship here in Indianapolis. In fact, I still have the American flag that I received that day. And I dedicated myself to the qualities that—for me—define this country: freedom and fairness, justice and equality, tolerance and civility, openness and opportunity.

I came to the United States to pursue my education.

I stayed here to chase my dreams.

Here I could be part of something much bigger than myself. Here I could be part of the American family.

Congratulations From IUPUI

Today, you are joining this family that is America, and I want to congratulate you for everything you have done to reach this moment.

Having gone through this process myself, I understand how hard you’ve worked and how much time this has taken. I can feel your excitement. I can sense your joy.

As chancellor of IUPUI, I feel honored that IUPUI is part of this amazing moment in your lives. As a campus, we requested the honor of hosting this milestone event:

  • because of our commitment to this city and its people;
  • because we value diverse voices on this campus;
  • because we want to build bridges of opportunity and tear down walls of exclusion.

Citizenship: More Important Than Ever

At this moment in history, your commitment to the United States and to becoming a U.S. citizen is particularly important. Last fall, we experienced one of the most turbulent elections in recent memory.

The language of hate and judgement and misinformation preceded the election and still clouds national conversations, raising questions around the world about what we as Americans stand for and value.

Thanks to the current political situation, one in three international students said they were less interested in studying in the United States, according to a recent survey. (1)

The free flow of talent—of students, scholars, and many others—from around the world distinguishes American higher education and the U.S. economy more broadly.

In the laboratory and classroom, this talent translates into ideas that lead to safer automobiles, better schools, stronger legal systems, even the cure for cancer.

In the economy, this talent translates into immigrants launching more than half of the very largest American start-up companies in 2016. (2) Statistics also show that in Indianapolis immigrants are more likely to start their own businesses than native-born people in the metro area. (3)

Responsibilities to Ourselves, Our Families, and Our Country

These figures are impressive, but the heart of the story today is about you.

You will now bear the responsibilities of active and engaged citizenship, of helping to build—and in some cases rebuild—and maintain our country’s core values and most highly-prized principles.

We are Americans, and we must stand up for one another and speak out against hatred and bigotry. We must do the hard work of being informed, especially as we exercise our hard-earned right to vote.

And for so many of us, this responsibility and hard work is about family.

Like my father so long ago, you want your children to have better lives than you had. You have sacrificed and saved for them so that you can give them the priceless gift of freedom that comes with our democracy.

In this, you are not only making their lives better, you are also helping to build a better America.

Congratulations, and thank you very much.