August 12, 2011 - Richard B. Russell Building (75 Spring St.), Ceremonial Courtroom on the 23rd floor
Guest Speaker – Muta M. Issa, MD, MBA
“I am an American” … We can all say this today.
“I am an American” is a simple statement yet it is so powerful. Today, you are a part of a nation that believes that all people are created equal, with the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness. These basic equalities and rights are so unique to America that it feels like a dream; The American Dream. Today, you celebrate this American dream. And as you know … it is no longer a dream … Today, to you, it is a reality.
Thirteen years ago, I was sitting in your place. Today, I stand here addressing you at this magnificent US citizenship naturalization ceremony. It is a testimony of what America is all about, and in making the American dream become reality. It is an honor and a privilege to welcome you as American’s newest citizens. Thank you, Judge Jones and Judge Totenberg for inviting me here.
I would like to share with you my story, primarily to illustrate what being an American has meant to an ordinary person like me.
I was born and raised in Iraq. Both my parents were hard working good citizens. Neither was college educated. My family left Iraq in 1975 to pursue a better life. I was 15-years of age at the time. Being raised by a Catholic family, I was shipped to Ireland where I attended a catholic high school followed by medical school. I graduated at age 23. Job opportunities for new medical graduates like myself were limited at that time in Europe. It was clear that irrespective of my achievements, I remained a second-class citizen as non-European born individual. So I decided to come to America arriving here in 1987. I really did not expect much. All I hoped for was a fair opportunity to do my residency training. Those who knew something about America kept telling me that America was the best country in the world. So despite the many uncertainties, I felt hopeful.
I started with one hundred job applications. I ended up with two interviews. Johns Hopkins offered me a job where I would be working a world-renowned professor; an icon who is also known as “the God of Urology.” My reply then was “Let me think about it!” That was not a smart thing to say. What was I thinking!! Once I realized this, I picked up the phone, apologized and accepted the offer.
Unlike where I came from, there was little emphasis on my origin, what I looked like, and who my parents were and what they did. Obviously, judging by my looks, I had little if any potential. Fortunately for me, the emphasis was on me as an individual, on my accomplishment and on my potential. So, all I had to do is embrace America and its opportunities, work hard and be a good citizen. Doors started to open from Johns Hopkins, to Stanford and finally here at Emory, an Atlanta Jewel and a world-class university where I am currently tenured. My homeless status was finally over, America became my home and it is the best home in the world. So, today I am proud to say to you “WELCOME HOME.”
It is often difficult for me to resist lecturing. I guess it comes with the territory as an academician. My wife, Jill, and my daughter, Isabella, who are both here today, hinted to me that I should resist the temptation. So I will not lecture BUT I would like to share with you few thoughts.
Becoming an American Citizen is the new chapter of your life; a new culture with so many new things to handle. I suspect that many of you, like myself, may experience opposite cultural forces; a PULL back from home and a PUSH forward in America. While it is important to remember and cherish our past, it is equally important not to get stuck in it. Juggling between two different cultures can be challenging and confusing, especially to children.
We all know that America is a nation of immigrants from all over the world. It follows that there are diverse backgrounds, various cultures, races, religions, languages, beliefs, and other deep-rooted differences. Despite these multi-directional forces, the American system works. American brings the best of each culture to make one unique American Culture. The amazing thing is what happens down the line … when you look at the grandchildren of immigrants (two generations down the line), they all seem to think and behave similarly, as Americans. My daughter isn’t a Greek-French-Canadian-Iraqi-Irish-Turk, she is 100% perfectly American. That is just sublime. Value the culture you were born into but embrace the culture you have chosen. This is a nation of unlimited potential. American is the future of your children and your grandchildren.
Being an American gives you many rights. I personally consider these more like privileges. And with privileges come obligations; both duties and responsibilities. As an American citizen, your duties include obeying the law, paying taxes, defending the nation, serving in court, among other things.
Responsibilities, thing we should do, are voluntary. So choose to be involved and make a positive contribution to the community in which you live. Read about our history, speak English whenever you can, cook cheeseburgers. Instead of six-flags, take your children to Washington DC.
I promise you, you will find joy in accepting America the way it is accepting you.
Let us remember and contribute back to those who protect our nation. Many of you may not be aware of this, but Emory University and the Atlanta VA Medical Center are next-door neighbors and have a close working relationship; sharing doctors and many of the resources. As such, a large portion of my time is dedicated to serving US Veterans. These brave men and women put America ahead of themselves. The stories I hear from them often bring tears to my eyes.
Many years ago … when I asked one of the patients why he had old fashion airplane propellers tattooed in places where he should not, he looked at me and shook his head with sadness.
He said “it is hard for you young people to understand. The first day I arrived to Vietnam I buried half my platoon. When something like happens to you, and then someone wants to tattoo propellers on you, you just let them do it.”
He went on to say: “I never thought I would make it back for anyone to see these.” These Veterans are all around us. It is only right to acknowledge their sacrifices and thank them for protecting America and keeping us safe. Remember them, thank them and support them. So don’t be shy. Choose to do something nice for them on Nov 14 (Veterans Day) and on Memorial Day. Stand up and pull up your children with you when you hear our national anthem.
Ben Franklin said: “well done is better than well said.”
Two hundred year later,
Nike came up with the logo “just do it”.
Both meant the same in that; “Actions speak louder than words.”
If you love this country the same way this country loves you, when you leave this momentous ceremony let your actions speak, do so with the promise of give back and contribute to a better America.
Congratulation for becoming an American
God Bless you and God Bless America