|I welcome you as citizens of the United States. As secretary of state I
am responsible for encouraging the active expression of citizenship. Consequently, I feel
particularly honored to be part of your ceremony a ceremony through which you are
each acknowledging your conscious decision to become citizens of our country.
of the United States of America I also want to tell you how honored we are that, of all
the countries in the world, it is ours that you chose to make your home, to raise your
families, to invest your future.
Today's ceremony is the culmination of a lengthy process a process through which
each of you faced and resolved key questions about yourselves as individuals, and about
the responsibilities, privileges, and meaning of being a United States citizen.
It is particularly fitting that you enter citizenship here in Vermont. Two hundred and
eight years ago Vermonters collectively debated the potential benefits, and pitfalls, of
United States citizenship. For fourteen years Vermonters governed themselves as an
independent republic. Some Vermonters opposed joining the union. They feared that
Vermont's unique concerns and beliefs would be drowned out in national councils. One
opponent argued that, "if Vermont came into the union, the sacrifice she made must be
great--her interest must then bend to the interest of the union..."
Supporters countered that United States' citizenship opened opportunities that could
never be achieved as a small, independent republic. "Received into the bosom of the
union," they argued, "we at once become brethren and fellow-citizens
with...millions of people;...here is a scene opened that will expand [our] social
feelings;...the channels of information will be opened wide and far extended; the spirit
of learning will be called forth by every motive of interest and laudable ambition; [and]
our general interests will be the same with those of the union."
At the personal level, this long past debate must be familiar to you. What do you leave
behind by becoming United States' citizens? What new opportunities will now be opened?
Your presence here is an acknowledgement that you choose to pursue the opportunities
offered by United States' citizenship.
But opportunities are just that. It will be up to you, as individuals, to turn those
opportunities into whatever personal achievements you choose to pursue.
And with the opportunities of citizenship come its obligations. Indeed, if we fail to
meet our obligations as citizens, we diminish our opportunities.
This is as true today as it was two hundred years ago. Vermonters then talked of
interests; how do you balance your individual interests with the common interests of the
state? How do you balance the interests of your state with those of the nation? Those
early Vermonters called this balance between personal interests and the common good,
You as new citizens of the United States must find your own path to civic virtue. The
obligations of citizenship, the expression of civic virtue, require participation. At its
simplest level this means making the best possible effort to understand the issues of our
public dialogue. And then expressing that understanding through the informed use of your
The joy of citizenship, however, extends beyond the ability to debate and vote upon
issues that effect our lives. Civic virtue includes a willingness to participate in the
structures of self-government.
Someone once calculated that Vermont has almost 11,000 local officials. These range
from selectboard members to town library trustees; from school board members to cemetery
commissioners. This is a remarkable number of officials in a state with a population of
just over 560,000. It works out to about one local official for every 53 Vermonters.
Many of these officials receive little or no compensation. They volunteer their time to
make sure that local democracy works. They must listen to the concerns and perspectives of
their neighbors; and then translate those concerns into policy. They must occasionally
resolve difficult issues that divide their neighbors. Their actions do not effect some
distant, nameless set of citizens. Rather these decisions effect their friends and
neighbors, people they encounter in the day to day activities of their lives. That so many
Vermont citizens understand and practice their civic virtue is one of the things that make
this a special place.
These citizens, now your fellow-citizens, know that citizenship cannot be a spectator
sport. They know citizenship requires an active interest in community and informed
participation in its decision making.
In turn, you can offer valuable insights to your fellow citizens. You, more than most,
have had to think of what citizenship means. You have had experience with citizenship
within other countries. With the whole world before you, you reached a decision to become
U.S. citizens. We can learn from you.
Fourteen years ago a new governor delivered an inaugural address to the Vermont General
Assembly. Madeleine Kunin, served as governor of Vermont from 1985 until 1991 (She was one
of two foreign-born Vermont governors in last fifty years.) In her address she spoke of
her mother, who as a widow, came to America from Switzerland with two small children, in
1940, as war was spreading over Europe. Kunin spoke of how, in addition to a limited
knowledge of English, her mother carried with her to these shores a "limitless dream
of what this country could offer her and her children." She talked of how "this
dream continues to send a message of hope, just as it once did . . . for the generations
of Irish, Italians, Polish, French and Canadians, who came to work in the granite sheds,
woolen mills, railroads, farms and factories of Vermont...." And she described that
spirit of hope as "a spirit, which instills in our children the belief that anyone
can achieve anything in this country with hard work, an education, and a fair
Governor Kunin is a wonderful example of how one citizen by choice realized both the
opportunities and obligations of citizenship. Whatever your own dreams are, I wish you
well. You, by your actions today, have made us a better country. We welcome you.