To the Newest American Citizens: This Land is Your Land

Michael Connor, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

Recently, as part of commemorating 100-years of America’s National Park Service, I had the pleasure of welcoming 25 new U.S. citizens at a special naturalization ceremony held at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. 

Deputy Secretary Mike Connor speaks from a podium on a small stage with a brick fort behind him.
Deputy Secretary Mike Connor speaking at a naturalization ceremony at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Maryland. Photo by Interior.

On August 25, the actual 100th birthday of the National Park Service, 450 individuals across the United States took the Oath of Allegiance and became America’s newest citizens. Along with their family and friends, these 450 Americans celebrated their special day at several different National Park Service sites, including Fort McHenry (where I had the pleasure to congratulate everyone in person), Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Big Thicket National Preserve, and Biscayne National Park. 

Since 2006, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and National Park Service have partnered to welcome thousands of new citizens in parks around the country and celebrate their new status in our country’s beautiful landmarks. In this National Park Service Centennial year, USCIS and NPS will host at least 100 ceremonies in parks to recognize the importance of these locations to our newest Americans. 

A large group of people listen as an official speaks at a ceremony on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona has hosted several naturalization ceremonies. Photo by Michael Quinn, National Park Service.

These ceremonies have brought America’s next generation of immigrants to the natural, historical and cultural treasures that tell the American story. The diversity of the parks extend from iconic wonders like Everglades National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crater Lake National Park, to significant landmarks such as Faneuil Hall in Boston National Historical Park, Ellis Island, and Women’s Rights National Historical Park.  

National parks began with the idea that America’s greatest natural treasures belong to everyone and forever need to be preserved. 

America’s great outdoors are all-encompassing: from deep blue lakes and jagged mountain peaks to hearty grasslands and arid deserts. The American people are just as diverse, bringing unique experiences to these unique places. Our newest citizens add to that diversity and carry with them their own stories as they explore these places. 

A line of people waving American flags with a snow capped mountain in the background.
New citizens celebrating at a naturalization ceremony at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Photo by Emily Brouwer, National Park Service.

As we begin our second century of the National Park Service, we also pause to recognize that our public lands and national parks will continue to thrive only if Americans of all backgrounds care deeply about them. As the newest Americans were sworn in, they now join the rest of their fellow Americans as owners of these public lands. 

As owners and stewards of our nation’s public lands, we all bear responsibility to preserve and protect these special sites. At Fort McHenry, we paused to recognize the significance of the site that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a song played by the fife and drum team during the ceremony. For all citizens new and old, it is important to get out and explore these places that help to tell the history of our country. From the Stonewall Inn in New York that helps tell the ongoing struggle for civil rights, to Glacier National Park that shows how climate change is continuing to impact natural treasures, all Americans should see and experience the sites that are special to you. As we like to say, everyone should get out and #FindYourPark (#Encuentra Tu Parque)!

Our public lands tell the story of this great nation and of its diverse people. It’s up to all of us to inspire the next generation—and people of all backgrounds—to become passionate about conservation and these incredible places.

Former President Jimmy Carter stands with a group of new citizens on the steps of a brick building.
Former President Jimmy Carter stands with new citizens at Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. Photo by National Park Service.