On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) honored Dr. Herscher as an Outstanding American by Choice at the National Archives in Washington, DC. This recognition is bestowed upon naturalized citizens who have made significant contributions to their community and their adopted country—through civic participation, professional achievement, and responsible citizenship.
During the ceremony, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero provided welcoming remarks, and USCIS Director León Rodríguez administered the oath of allegiance to fourteen new citizens, each from a different country. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas then presented Dr. Herscher with the honor and invited him to address the new citizens and lead the pledge of allegiance. Dr. Herscher’s remarks from the ceremony are below.
Thank you, Secretary Mayorkas. Thank you, Mr. Ferriero, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Rodriguez, and my fellow Americans by choice. Your pride and your joy on this occasion add so greatly to mine.
I am here today as a proud American. I took the oath of citizenship over half a century ago, on March 24, 1960, in a small courthouse in San Jose, California. On that day, like this one, fourteen new citizens were sworn in. I was the youngest, a senior in high school. I chose on my own to become a citizen. Together with my parents, at the same ceremony, we became Americans by choice.
Six years earlier, I had arrived in San Jose as a boy, with my mother, father, and younger brother. My parents’ decision to immigrate took courage and fortitude. They wanted their sons to have unparalleled educational opportunities, lead American lives, and dream American dreams. I know that each of you assembled here today cherish those who have loved you and led you to this American journey.
As new arrivals in San Jose, we shared the trepidation that all new immigrants bring. But our fears were short lived. From the very first, we were welcomed—by strangers who became neighbors, by classmates who became friends, by teachers who became mentors, by people from many walks of life, Americans all. The memory of that American welcome, the warmth of that embrace, has never left me. My father found work as a cabinetmaker, my mother as a laundress. Their vocations were humble. Like other immigrants, they worked hard, persevered, and earned a modest share of the American dream.
How I wish my parents were here today. How I wish my wife's parents were here too. All of them were immigrants. And I think too of my grandparents, who yearned to be immigrants, but who perished in Nazi Europe before they could escape. I feel their presence here today. They stand beside me in memory. They live on in my heart. Their hopes and dreams inspired me to create the Skirball Cultural Center, a place of meeting in Los Angeles founded upon the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger. At the Skirball we celebrate not only what America has done for its immigrants, but what immigrants have done for America. The Skirball tells this story—and writes thrilling new pages every day.
Our lives do not begin with our birth, but with those who came before us, who cared for us, and loved us, and helped to light our way. Such memories make me especially grateful for the presence today of my beloved family—my wife, Myna; our four sons, Adam, Joshua, Aron, and Gideon; my brother Eli and his wife Bonnie; our daughters-in-law, Deborah and Tracey; and our five grandchildren, Eden, Daniella, Micah, Jonah, and Judah. They are here to share this milestone in my life.
The honor is made yet more meaningful by the exceptional person who has bestowed it—Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, himself an American by Choice. His compassion, his character, his intellect, and his integrity strengthen our nation and our world.
Yet perhaps the greatest honor of all is to share this honor with the fourteen of you, newly welcomed citizens of the United States, from countries of origin throughout the world: Afghanistan, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Ireland, Israel, Laos, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. What a glorious representation of world geography! The United States is indeed a nation of immigrants. That is its essential character, its greatest resource, and its everlasting promise.
The following words were first spoken by George Washington in 1783:
America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom we shall welcome.
They inspire me still. They define the vision of hope that has graced and guided this nation. To be sure, there have been times in our history when we have fallen short of it. There are those who would disparage it. There are those who would extinguish it. But we immigrants to America bear proof of its promise. In our lives, in the lives of our children and their children, that vision of hope burns brighter than ever.
Now, as your first act as United States citizens, I invite you to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with me. Please rise.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
Kindly be seated.