Happy 4th of July

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Fireworks behind statue of liberty

I’m not sure about you, but it’s difficult at times for me to feel optimistic about our country. Every day it seems like we are becoming more fractured as a nation as issues like race, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, and a handful of other hot topics divide the people. Some states enact legislation that is diametrically opposed to other states; at least one state has been actively working to put secession to a vote; and social media captures the war of words between various sides (often in 140 characters or less). It kind of makes you wonder if we really are still the UNITED States of America.

Although it is hard to remain positive and patriotic, a recent event helped renew my faith in the future and restore my national pride. On the first day of summer vacation, I attended a naturalization ceremony in Howard County. Through his work on the Board of Directors for FIRN, Howard Spanish teacher Tyler Petrini was responsible for arranging student volunteers to assist with the ceremony and reception and he invited me to attend. There in the George Howard building in Ellicott City, I witnessed 31 men and women give up their citizenship in their home countries and swear their allegiance to the United States of America.

With the presentation of our nation’s colors, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of our National Anthem, and a special message from President Barack Obama (all offered against a backdrop of nationalistic imagery—think purple mountains majesty, etc), it was hard not to well up with patriotism. But it was more than just the words and pictures that made me proud to be an American. As the State Department official read the names of the countries represented by the “citizens to be” and they took their oath, it was clear that these men and women were leaving behind war-torn countries, nations with atrocious human rights records, and places our government advises against or flat out bans travelling to. They came to America with hope—hope for a better life, a better today, and a better tomorrow for their families.

America may not be perfect, but we are a lot better than some of the other choices out there …because we offer hope. On this 4th of July, I celebrate that hope. I celebrate freedom. I celebrate democracy. More than two hundred years ago, the colonists declared their independence from England stating their desire for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Over the course of our nation’s history, we have welcomed in “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” And we still offer a home to those who desire to be an American like the 31 men and women I witnessed become citizens. When it’s so easy to see what’s wrong with our country, we often overlook all the things that are right. We forget that we are blessed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We definitely have work to do, but this 4th of July, let’s be UNITED in working together to improve our country. Let’s celebrate what it means to live in America—home of the free because of the brave!

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