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Hebenstreit: A Special Celebration of Being an American

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IBA-hebenstreitWhat does the 4th of July mean to you? Regions Bank fireworks, Lake Wawasee, hot dogs, ice cream???? Possibly all of the above. Although holidays are very important in our family, we do not have any long standing traditions for our Nation’s birthday. Rather, it is an opportunity to reflect about being an American.

I feel that I have already won the “Lottery of Life” by being born in the United States rather than any number of other places. All you have to do is watch the evening news to see how much better our system of government works compared to any number of others. As I write this, our national leaders are negotiating to avoid the first ever default by the US on its debt. Hopefully, by the time this column is printed, the problem will be solved. But in any event, it will almost certainly be resolved in a peaceful manner.

In case you were not aware, the US District Court for the Southern District holds ceremonies on about 30 times a year for the purpose of administering the Oath of Citizenship to individuals desiring to become American citizens. Typically, the ceremonies are held in the US Courthouse in the courtroom of the Judge presiding over the ceremony. A number of groups and agencies are asked to participate and be present at the ceremony. The US Attorney‘s Office is present, the Indiana Senators and House members are either present in person or send a representative, and the IndyBar is also asked to participate. Our job is to extend a warm welcome to the new citizens and to present each with a copy of the US Constitution.

I remember reading about the Naturalization Ceremony conducted on July 4th each year. It is held at the former home of President Benjamin Harrison on North Delaware under a tent. I had always heard that Judge Sarah Evans Barker typically draws (or requests) the assignment, and that the ceremony is particularly moving. Having attended many over the years as a representative of the IndyBar, I thought it would be fun to attend the one coinciding with our Nation’s birth. There are not many “perks” to being President (other than being able to write this column every other week for a year) so at the beginning of this year, I asked Caren Chopp to assign me to the one on July 4th. It was not a mistake!

This year the ceremony was actually held on Friday, July 1 which was a glorious day. The grounds of the Harrison home were immaculate, and the air was filled with excitement and anticipation. The black Suburban of the US Marshal’s Office was blocking the driveway. There were a number of law enforcement officers from the Marshal Service as well as the Marion County Sheriff’s office in attendance, presumably since there are no metal detectors at the home. The setting was impressive.

As the ceremony got under way, Judge Barker requested that the country of each new citizen be announced and that all those from that country stand. She enlisted the children in attendance to deliver miniature American flags (donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution) to each new citizen. It was very appropriate because it kept the children engaged and provided a personal recognition to each of the 90 individuals taking the oath that morning. For any of you who have attended these ceremonies, the oath is quite impressive. Having been drafted in the late 1700’s, it uses some antiquated language which only highlights the dignity of the event. It is very moving when each new citizen relinquishes any allegiance to any government, king or potentate (whatever that is) in order to then swears to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. Quite moving!

Being an American is something that we may take for granted. We did not have to work for it. But to observe those new citizens celebrating with their families and children rekindles the patriotic spirit. It is not an easy road to become a naturalized citizen. Those 90 individuals accomplished what we never had to do and it gives new meaning to being an American. I certainly hope they had fun celebrating our Nation’s birthday as US citizens. If you have never represented the IndyBar at one of these ceremonies, I would highly encourage you to take 2 hours out of a work day and experience that patriotic moment first hand. It is well worth your time.•

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