A Welcome for New Citizens

March 8, 2016

President Jim Scott ’70 gave this speech at a Nationalization Ceremony hosted at Punanhou on March 3, 2016.

My fellow Americans! Each of you has worked hard to earn the right to hear those words, so I want to say them again: My Fellow Americans!

On behalf of our over 3,750 students, 600 faculty and staff, 30,000 living alumni (including our most famous alumnus President Barack Obama ’79) and celebrating 175 years of a proud history, it is my honor to welcome you to Punahou School. It is a privilege for us to host your Naturalization Ceremony this morning.

All of us present this morning come from other places. We are a nation of immigrants. For me personally, on my mother’s side, my great-grandfather came to Hawai‘i from China as a laborer in the sugar cane fields. My other great-grandparents on my mother’s side (both Jewish) emigrated from Romania to escape religious prejudice and persecution. In addition to my Native Hawaiian great-grandmother, on my father’s side, I am the descendent of German and Irish immigrants who came to America, and eventually to Hawai‘i, to seek a better life.

I was one of the first in my family to graduate from college. My parents taught my brother and me to work hard, to strive to become better and to seek a great education. Our parents and our grandparents raised us to believe in the American dream – that if you work hard, stay humble and help others, you can achieve anything and you can become anything.

Our family is like millions of American immigrant families. Like you, we seized opportunities. Like you, we lived the American dream. We helped to shape it, just as you will.

We are truly inspired by your achievement today. Your dedication, your hard work and your very presence this morning show that you hold dear what so many of us take for granted. Most Americans take for granted your newfound rights, and we too often neglect your new responsibilities: to stay informed, speak out when something is not right, become an active participant in our democracy and help a fellow citizen when they need a hand. And above all, to exercise your right to vote! Especially when it is somewhat confusing like this Presidential election year. You will now be able to exercise all of these rights as an American citizen. But as Americans we are also expected to stand up for the rights of others.

America has left its mark on immigrant families from around the world. And immigrants have certainly made their imprint on this great country. Waves of immigrants and refugees – like my great-grandparents – have renewed and revitalized America. And today marks your turn to take your place in making America better.

When I was a young boy, I remember with pride the day when Hawai‘i became the 50th state. My boyhood hero was American President John F. Kennedy, who once said to his fellow Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you … ask what you can do for your country.” President Kennedy also said: “No form of government requires more of its citizens than America’s democracy. American immigrants have strengthened and enriched the fabric of American life.”

What you can do for your country is to contribute your enormous talents, your personal qualities and your experience. America needs your skills, your drive, your work ethic, your active citizenship and your fresh perspective to solve our most challenging problems. And America especially needs you to preserve your cultural heritage as you help to shape its future. Our ethnic and cultural diversity is our strength.

What a remarkable journey you have already made and will continue to make. Beginning today, your story will be forever woven into the larger story of this great country. You have put in the hard work required to become a citizen. I know. I saw the 100 possible civics test questions you had to prepare to earn your American citizenship.

And even with this work behind you, you still have demanding and potentially rewarding work ahead of you. It is the hard work of active citizenship. You now have newfound constitutional rights as a United States citizen. And with it comes some challenging and some awe-inspiring responsibilities.

But this is your day. It is such a privilege and a joy to share it with you and your families.

We salute you.
We honor you.
We admire you.
We are inspired by you.

Congratulations, best wishes and Godspeed my new Fellow Americans!