One of US: Taking the oath at Monticello
Parades and fireworks are fine and dandy, but I’ve got a 4th of July event that could very likely bring tears to your eyes, or at least a big stars-and-stripes smile: watching 77 people from 35 different countries become citizens of the United States on the front steps of Jefferson’s Monticello.
This July 4 will mark the 227th anniversary of American independence. Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, died– as if on cue– at Monticello on the 50th anniversary, July 4, 1826.
Since 1963, more than 2,000 fortunate individuals from the Western District of Virginia have been sworn in as Americans not in a dreary courtroom, but at Monticello’s mountaintop Naturalization Ceremony, which is actually presided over by the U.S. District Court. The moving ceremony begins at 10am with a reading of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and a speech by this year’s special guest, Allen H. Neuharth. (Previous speakers include Frank McCourt, Gen. Colin Powell, Carl Sagan, and Madeleine Albright).
Neuharth is the founder and senior advisory chairman of the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to “free press, free speech, and free spirit for all people.” Quite a “founding” father in his own right, Neuharth also started USA Today in 1982, and has authored eight books, including the best-selling autobiography Confessions of an S.O.B.
After Neuharth’s speech, the steps will transform into a courtroom, as the 77 petitioners take their oath of citizenship in front of several hundred witnesses. The Charlottesville Municipal band will play– what else?-– John Philip Sousa at the ceremony’s arousing finale. Monticello’s Wayne Mogielnicki describes the event as “a combination of small town 4th of July and big monument Washington D.C.” Sounds pretty accurate. “This ceremony tends to inspire even the most jaded of us,” he says.
So why not participate in a truly American Fourth of July event right here in Charlottesville this year? You’ll have plenty of time for parades, barbecues, and fireworks. I swear.
Monticello’s 41st annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony starts at 10am July 4 and lasts about an hour. Admission is free (unless you wish to tour the house). Try to arrive by 9:30am to avoid getting stuck in traffic on Route 53.