Commencement: It means “a beginning.” Right now, scholars nationwide are ruminating on this word as they receive diplomas and prepare for their futures. So, it’s fitting that yesterday marked my own commencement—I became an American citizen.
The United States has been very good to me. I moved here with my family 20 years ago, when I was 9. Since then, I’ve gone to college and graduate school, I’ve met and married the love of my life, and I’ve experienced all kinds of freedoms that most people here are lucky enough to be able to take for granted.
The Constitution has always protected me. I’ve been able to say what I’ve wished to say and worship as I’ve wished to worship (if at all). I’ve been a member of the press, and I’ve never felt the heavy hand of government censorship separate me from a story. The list goes on, and yet, unless you count taxes, this country has never once asked anything of me in return. I don’t have to enlist in the military or cater to the whims of a dictator. I don’t even have to pretend to like or approve of anything our government says or does. In fact, the First Amendment to this great document ensures my right to “petition government for a redress of grievances” if I so choose.
This has been an emotional week for me. I’ve bounced back and forth between exhilaration at the thought of finally being an American and a feeling of mourning for the Canadian citizenship I’ve now given up. I have to admit: There were moments when I had to fight off the urge to go north of the border and stock up on ketchup-flavored potato chips and poutine—neither of which I even eat. I just had this irrational fear that these childhood favorites might no longer be available to me—that I might be seen as a traitor.
Of course, this will never happen because Canada, like America, is a free country. And now that the ceremony is over, I harbor no regrets. I love the nation where I was born as much as I love the United States. I am proud to call both of these places home.
The ceremony I attended took place at Boston’s Faneuil Hall. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate venue: It was there that Samuel Adams and others planned important actions that would help America attain its freedom from Great Britain.
All across America, hundreds of thousands of new citizens take the Oath of Allegiance each year. We, like President Barack Obama and the 535 members of Congress, can vote and run for public office. We can make a difference and enact change. And in exchange, if our country needs our help, we have pledged to give it willingly and without reservation. Here is the full text of the Oath:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
I take these words seriously. If it is my right to vote or my freedom to speak my mind, then it is my duty to help my fellow citizens. And if I morally or ethically object to any of these responsibilities, then it is my right, my freedom and my duty to work within the laws of the land and petition the government to change things for the better.
It’s good to be an American.
Following the Oath of Allegiance, we each stood to represent our nations of origin as they were called. As the judge pointed out: While we were all Americans that day, America would not call for us to turn our backs on who we were.