July 4th, 2007 Walt Disney World Naturalization Ceremony
Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege to witness more than one thousand immigrants become United States citizens. The event took place in the Magic Kingdom in front of Cinderella Castle, where people from more than a hundred nations raised their right hand and swore allegiance to this great country.
The event started with Meg Crofton, President of Walt Disney World, welcoming guests. During her comments she remarked how wonderful it was that one of these peoples’ greatest dreams was coming true during Disney’s “Year of a Million Dreams” celebration.
Following her welcoming speech, the 6th Air Mobility Wing Honor Guard appeared on stage and raised the Stars and Stripes with all the pomp and spender one would expect. A slight breeze caught the flag and it bellowed beautifully in the wind. With the flag flying high, Gloria Estefan sang the Star Spangled Banner.
A loud speaker announcement followed and a roll call of all the nations being represented by this group of people was read. I wasn’t amazed to hear nations like Cuba, Bangladesh, and Haiti mentioned. These are poor or oppressed countries. It’s easy for me to understand why someone would want to leave these places for a better life. But when I heard names like Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany mentioned, I was surprised. These countries enjoy prosperity and freedom. I realized that America still holds a strong allure to people all over the world.
Dr. Emilio Gonzales, Director of the USCIS and also a naturalized citizen gave the Oath of Allegiance. With a thousand right hands raised high in the air, strong voices pledged to support and defend the Constitution. It was at this point I became a little teary myself.
With an audience of new citizens watching, Senator Mel Martinez (Fl) took the stage. Like his onlookers, he too is a naturalized citizen. It was at this time the Florida skies could hold back no longer and it began to rain. Disney, being Disney, had thought of everything and everyone had been given a poncho in advance. Interrupting his prepared speech, Senator Martinez remarked that after all these years of work to become a U.S. citizen they weren’t going to let a little rain dampen their spirits. The crowd cheered enthusiastically.
The Pledge of Allegiance was then said by all and then a pre-recorded message from President Bush was played. The Voices of Liberty appeared soon after with umbrellas in hand and sang “Golden Dream.”
When Dr. Gonzales returned to the podium the rain began to let up. He was joined by Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. The famous couple was presented with the “American By Choice” award for their contribution to others less fortunate and for the restoration work they are doing in south Florida to bring back neglected neighborhoods.
Lee Greenwood was next to take the stage and he sang “God Bless the U.S.A.” while everyone waved small American flags.
With the conclusion of his song, Meg Crofton thanked everyone for participating is this historic event and then asked that the new citizens fall in behind the Walt Disney World Marching Band. A group of flag waving smiling faces then proceeded down Main Street to the cheers of onlookers along the way. The event was topped off by two F-15 jets streaking across the sky above Main Street. U.S.A.
I would like to offer my special thanks to Deb Wills. Disney had invited her to cover this event as part of the official press corps. Unable to make it, she asked me to fill in for her. I was honored that she trusted me with the responsibility and excited that an old, patriotic softy like myself would get to witness this event from such a prime viewing vantage that the press is provided. Thanks a million, Deb!