U.S. Naturalization Ceremony Welcome Remarks, Princeton University, April 12, 2017

April 12, 2017

Good morning.  It is a pleasure for me to be here with you today, and it is an honor to say a few words of welcome as we begin this ceremony.  Let me begin by congratulating all of you who become citizens today.  You are an impressive group, hailing from 31 different countries.  I am delighted that your group includes two professors from this University’s faculty and one of its students.  I feel admiration for what all of you have accomplished in your lives, gratitude for the perspective and talent that you will bring to our country, and joy at welcoming you as fellow citizens.

Both of my parents were immigrants to this country.  Like you, they became citizens through naturalization.  I was born here, but I have on multiple occasions promised my support for the Constitution, just as you are about to do.  I did so most recently when I became president of this University.  To become Princeton’s president, you must swear or affirm that you will support the Constitution of the United States and that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the government established in the state of New Jersey.  So when you take the oath of citizenship in a moment, we will share in common that promise to support the Constitution of the United States.

I take this promise very seriously.  I have spent much of my life as a professor studying and teaching about the Constitution.  I accordingly want to say something about what it means to commit oneself to the Constitution.

Supporting the Constitution is partly about respecting the obligations that it imposes, and the oath that you are about to take is very specific about some of those obligations.  The Constitution also guarantees rights, such as the right to free speech, the right to vote, and the right to the free exercise of religion.  Those rights will now be yours to exercise and to defend.

Importantly, the Constitution also includes values and purposes.  It states some of those values and purposes at the very beginning:  “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, provide for the common defense, ensure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”  Other values and purposes are left implicit or stated later, such as the purpose of ensuring for all persons the equal protection of the laws.

If you and I are to fulfill our shared promise to support the Constitution, we must dedicate ourselves to the ideals that animate it.  Each of us must be willing to investigate the content and meaning of those ideals.  We must challenge ourselves and our fellow citizens to live up to them fully.  We must demand that our government strive always to achieve them more completely.  That, in my view, is part of what it means to bring about a “more perfect Union.”

Supporting the Constitution is thus a demanding endeavor.  It is also an exhilarating project.  I welcome your partnership in that project.  We are fortunate that you have chosen to become Americans.  It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you today as you make the promises of citizenship, and I look forward to working with you to support our Constitution in the days and years ahead.  Congratulations!