April 7, 2016

U.S. will welcome new citizens at ceremony at Wright Memorial


A naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens is planned at the Wright Brothers National Memorial on April 16 at 3 p.m. Although these ceremonies are often held at national parks all across the country, the event is the first of its kind for the Outer Banks – and hopefully the start of a new tradition here.

The idea for the Wright Brothers Naturalization Ceremony stemmed from the year-long celebration of the National Park Service’s Centennial. The goal of the celebration is to highlight parks all across the country, but also outline a plan for the future of the parks for the next 100 years.

This aim is effectively divvied up into four “Call to Action” categories -- Connecting People to Parks, Advancing the NPS Education Mission, Preserving America's Special Places, and Enhancing Professional and Organizational Excellence. Each of these broad goals are effectively broken down further to create smaller and more concrete plans.

According to Dan Shook, interpretive ranger at the Wright Brothers Memorial, the local naturalization ceremony fits under “Connecting People to Parks,” and its subcategories of both connecting people to parks in their own backyard and enhancing and developing lifelong connections with local parks – especially for people in densely populated areas.

“We want to create an awareness of outdoor experiences that are close to home,” explains Shook. “Most people think of national parks as massive landscapes, like Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon, and we want people to know there are amazing national parks in their own backyard.”

The setting of this upcoming naturalization is appropriate outside of the Centennial Celebration as well, considering that the story of the first flight, and the Wright Brothers Memorial is certainly a source of national pride.

“The Wright Brothers [Memorial] is an inspirational spot to introduce people to this country,” says Shook. “These new citizens went on an amazing journey, and there were probably many times they wanted to quit – just like Wilbur and Orville did....“But this site represents where hard work will take you.”

The NPS and United States Customs and Immigration Service have had a formal partnership for many years in order to hold naturalization ceremonies while introducing citizens to culturally significant sites.

For this ceremony, the NPS and the Raleigh / Durham office of the USCIS sought out soon-to-be new U.S. citizens who lived in between Raleigh and the Outer Banks. “We told them how much space we had, and they started looking at candidates [in the eastern part of the state] -- so it’s close to home, and the attendees are all local people.”

The final list for the upcoming April 16 ceremony includes 40 new citizens who hail from at least 15 different countries.

The public is welcome to attend and will be admitted to the Wright Brothers Memorial for free, as April 16 is also the kick-off day for National Park Service week – during which admission to all national parks across the country will be waived until April 23.

And as the icing on the cake, April 16 also just so happens to be Wilbur Wright’s Birthday.

Several local civics classes have been contacted to attend the ceremony, and the NPS is also looking to recruit local school band members to play the National Anthem.

A full roster of activities are slated for the day, which includes special programs and talks at the main visitors’ center every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The ceremony itself will be held in a temporary tent that will be erected for the occasion, with chairs for the attendees and their families, and ample standing room for anyone who wants to look on to see democracy in process.

The ceremony lasts a total of 45 minutes, and begins with the National Anthem and the presentation of colors, followed by welcoming remarks from the USCIS  Raleigh / Durham field office director, and a short video welcoming attendees to the ceremony.

The keynote address will be delivered by Outer Banks Group Park Superintendent, David E. Hallac, which will then be followed by the Call of Nations – an integral part of the ceremony during which all citizens stand up and announce what country they are originally from.

After that, the new citizens will take an oath of allegiance, followed by a crowd-wide recitation of the pledge of allegiance, and the ceremony will conclude with videotaped remarks from the President of the United States.

It’s a short ceremony, but an important one, and it fits in perfectly with the broader agenda of the Centennial Celebration.

“One of the biggest tie-ins to the future of our National Park Service is that we’re reaching out to new people,” says Shook. “These people might be coming from nations that have nothing like [the National Park system], and we want them to know that it’s not your park, or my park, it’s our park. These are your special places.”

If all goes well, the National Park Service is hopeful that this inaugural ceremony will be the first of many down the road.

“Immigration always wanted to do it here, so we hope that this will be a partnership for many years to come,” says Shook. “We would like this to be something we can continue to do in the future, for sure.”

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