New citizens

By Mara Rockliff

Were you the kid who popped your gum during the Pledge of Allegiance? Does “God Bless America” leave your tear ducts dry? Not the type to drape a giant flag over your carport or plaster your bumper with stickers boasting “These Colors Don’t Run”?
Wayne Mogielnicki has a challenge for you. On Thursday, July 4, at 11am, Virginia’s newest U.S. citizens will stand where Thomas Jefferson once stood and take their oath. Be there, and bring a tissue. Maybe two. “It’s very moving,” says Monticello’s director of communications. “Even the most cynical person will feel a surge of patriotism when they see this ceremony.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Monticello Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony. The 72 new citizens to be sworn in came here from 33 countries, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (really).
For celebrity watchers, the highlight of the hour-long event may be the featured talk by Frank McCourt, whose best-selling Angela’s Ashes won him the Pulitzer Prize. This beautifully written memoir limns the author’s “miserable Irish Catholic childhood” with wit and charm. Though McCourt is actually a U.S. citizen by birth, his boyhood move to Limerick, and later return to New York, allow him to speak powerfully on the immigrant experience.
No fireworks, but otherwise it’s Independence Day with all the trimmings. The Charlottesville Municipal Band will play the national anthem and other patriotic tunes. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence will be read aloud. Boy and Girl Scouts will lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. (No gum popping.) And, for a brief time, the white-columned porch of Monticello will become a bona fide federal district court for 72 brand-new Americans.
“It’s something that I think everybody should see at least once, especially if you were born in this country,” Mogielnicki says. “It makes you appreciate what you might have taken for granted.”

Fortieth annual Monticello Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony takes place outdoors at the mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson, 11am-noon. Free and open to the public. (Admission fee to tour the house.) 984-9822

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