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Smithsonian Honors New U.S. citizens and Ralph Lauren at Special Star-Spangled Banner Naturalization Ceremony
"This is the best part of my job," said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. "Each of you are Americans by choice, and you remind the rest of us of the value and importance of being a citizen of this great country. Let me be the first to welcome you, my fellow Americans."
Washington District Director Sarah Taylor called the countries and presented the candidates to the secretary. The new citizens hailed from Australia, Canada, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Italy, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, the Philippines, Romania, Sierra Leone and South Korea. Event organizers chose 15 candidates from 15 countries to represent the corresponding number of stars and stripes on the Star-Spangled Banner.
The ceremony was part of a larger celebration of the Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project, funded largely by fashion icon Ralph Lauren. He answered the call of former First Lady Hillary Clinton during her "Save America's Treasures" campaign in 1998. Lauren donated $10 million to the flag restoration project, and another $3 million to support Clinton’s program. Clinton helped present Lauren with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his work ensuring the flag will be available for future generations.
Clinton's goal of "Save America’s Treasures" was to protect the country’s cultural and historic landmarks. In her keynote remarks, she discussed the great promise of America: where immigrants no longer needed to seek "freedom from" things and could instead focus on their "freedom to" accomplish their dreams.
"Ralph responded to the call," Clinton said. "He didn't have to, but he understood because it was deep within him that part of being an American is giving back."
Lauren, the youngest son of immigrant parents, told the new U.S. citizens he remembers his mom studying for the test and the importance of what being an American citizen meant. He dislikes being called a philanthropist and said he felt compelled to help preserve such a treasured piece of history.
"I am inspired by America," Lauren said. "I just believed it was the right thing for me to do."
For more photos of the ceremony, see www.facebook.com/uscis