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Celebrating the Fourth of July with Thomas Jefferson

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I know on this Fourth of July, I will both laugh and cry.

The laughter is likely to come when listening to our speaker Tracey Ullman at Monticello's annual Naturalization Ceremony. As a recently naturalized citizen (in 2006), Tracey understands the importance of the journey to become an American citizen, and appreciates the importance of civic engagement in American society. And if you have seen her show, "State of the Union," you know she also has a razor-sharp wit and an irreverent and very funny look at a day in the life of America.

The tears come every year by watching applicants for naturalization become American citizens. Since 1963, we have celebrated Independence Day at Monticello by welcoming new Americans who share Thomas Jefferson's vision of America. They come together and take the oath of citizenship on the steps of his home. The annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony is an opportunity for us to appreciate Jefferson's contributions to our nation and for 74 applicants for naturalization to become part of the American story.

The applicants come from over 30 countries and have diverse backgrounds, different reasons for immigrating, and various stories to tell, but they all come together with the same hopes and dreams about building a life in this great country by becoming an American citizen.

Celebrating Independence Day at Monticello can give you a glimpse into the ideas that shaped America's future and helped us become the home of the free and the land of the brave. On that, no voice is clearer than that of Thomas Jefferson. His words resonate as strongly today as they did over two and a quarter centuries ago: "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Pausing to celebrate our nation's independence on the Fourth with friends and family is what Jefferson preferred. Margaret Bayard Smith quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, "The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July." And coincidentally, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson died at Monticello.

But his legacy lives on at Monticello. Experiencing Monticello is more than visiting a historical destination - it is a journey into Jefferson's life and legacy. Monticello was really Jefferson's laboratory, a place where he experimented with new ideas, from architecture and sustainable agriculture to wine cultivation. It represents his aspirations for America.

A visit to Monticello reveals Jefferson's continued relevance. Recent updates and renovations show previously unseen rooms including the iconic Dome Room and Jefferson's wine cellar. The kitchen has been restored to its original design and gives you a better idea of what life was like when Jefferson lived there.

Walking through the kitchen and the dining room, the latter restored to its original chrome yellow, you can almost imagine the "power dinners" he hosted. He was known for bringing people together over dinner and wine to discuss current events and ideas of the day. His granddaughter described these meals as "feasts of reason." He even invented new ways to organize dining to minimize disruption, including revolving doors and dumbwaiters.

Michelle Obama has called Jefferson our "first foodie," as he was a champion of sustainable gardening and cultivating local agriculture. Modern foodies can get a taste of the way food was grown and used in Jefferson's day at the annual Heritage Harvest Festival in the fall. Jefferson's ingenuity in a variety of areas, be it food, architecture, weather or wine still resonates strongly today.

So this holiday weekend, by all means, celebrate American Independence. Celebrate the freedom our nation prizes and the opportunities we offer our citizens, both new and old. Enjoy the festivities with hot dogs, and with fireworks, and with all the iconic things that make you think of America. But also join the proud new Americans who will swear their Oath of Citizenship on our nation's birthday in remembering Thomas Jefferson, an American icon in his own right.

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