President's Message: A lesson learned from our newest citizens

Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018 By MBA President Christopher A. Kenney
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MBA President Christopher A. Kenney

In a year dedicated to civics, perhaps it was fortuitous that I was chosen to appear for jury duty a few weeks ago. While I was ultimately and properly dismissed from the venire due to several conflicts I had with the particular subject matter and parties on trial, the experience was supremely meaningful for me. As a seasoned trial lawyer, I’ve had my fair share of experience in front of juries. But that experience brought home to me the idea that, no matter how we became Americans, we are all called to fulfill a role in our American experience.

There are two ways to become an American citizen, and, in September, I had the great opportunity to participate in a naturalization ceremony. While I assumed it would be held in a federal building downtown, I was very pleased to discover that the state Superior Courts are empowered to host citizenship naturalization ceremonies. The ceremony I attended was held at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, with Superior Court Judge Susan Sullivan presiding, and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, Superior Court Chief Justice Judith Fabricant and Trial Court Administrator Jonathan Williams in attendance. 

As Judge Sullivan gave an inspired speech to the soon-to-be citizens in the room, I was struck by how many different backgrounds were represented; I saw every color of the rainbow. Despite their differences, however, they all shared two things in common: an American flag pin and a beaming smile. These people were overjoyed to join us as United States citizens. 

For them, the ceremony marked the end of an arduous process that, at best, required years of waiting, interviews with U.S. agents, successful completion of tests on civics and the English-language, and, finally, the ceremony, where individuals are required to take an oath renouncing prior allegiances and pledging loyalty to the United States, including a promise to bear arms to defend the United States, if necessary.

Those of us who were born in the United States don’t have this same experience; for us it’s automatic. The important takeaway is, no matter how citizenship is obtained, the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that we share the same rights and responsibilities.

Still, there are lessons from the citizenship naturalization process that all U.S. citizens should take to heart if, indeed, we are to be active participants in our civic lives.

One such lesson is that citizenship is something you work for, not just one moment in time. In each citizen’s lifetime, he or she may be called to serve on a jury or even, if necessary, to serve in our military to defend the United States. Each person should exercise their right to vote, which many of us did in the election held earlier this week.

Another lesson is that citizenship is a privilege and something to be proud of. At the end of the naturalization ceremony in Woburn, everyone in the room said the Pledge of Allegiance in unison. It was one of the most joyous feelings I’ve had since the birth of my children, so I can only imagine how the newly sworn-in citizens felt.

I feel strongly that we need to recapture that pride, and, here at the MBA, I believe we are in the unique position to lead the way this year as we focus on promoting civic education and engagement.