Fleeson Gooing attorney Sylvia Penner was recently privileged to deliver the Welcoming Address to new American citizens at a Naturalization Ceremony held at Wichita’s Century II Convention Center on June 20, 2019. Sylvia drew upon the experiences of her own family in welcoming the new citizens and encouraging them to engage in civic life and work for the betterment of our society.
It is with pride that we reproduce her remarks in full:
Good morning. My name is Sylvia Penner, and I am honored to spend today with you. I am a mother, a wife, and a lawyer, but today I stand before you as the granddaughter of immigrants and the daughter of an immigrant mother.
My paternal grandparents came to the United States from Mexico. My grandmother entered the country with her parents in 1920 and became a Permanent Resident on April 28, 1960. My grandfather entered the country with his parents in 1921. He went on to fight for this country as a member of the United States Army in World War II.
My maternal grandparents also came from Mexico. They entered the United States with my mother and my uncles on October 6, 1952. My mother later sat where you sit today—at her Naturalization Ceremony, on April 29, 1969. She was 19 years old.
All four of my grandparents came from very humble beginnings. They loved Mexico, but came to the United States with their respective families to seek the economic and educational opportunities available in this country. They instilled in their children (my parents) the importance of pursuing an education and the power of an education to affect positive change in the trajectory of a person’s life.
So, it was only fitting that my parents should meet on a college campus. They met at Wichita State University in 1972 and were married in December of 1973. After completing her studies, my mother worked at WSU in the Tuition and Fees Department for 18 years, retiring from her position as Assistant Controller in 2005. After my father completed his studies, he attended law school at Washburn University. He graduated from law school in 1977. He enjoyed a long career in the law, one that led to a seat on the bench. My father retired from his position as a District Court Judge for the Eighteenth Judicial District in 2015.
When I reflect on my family’s past, I think about my grandparents and the impact their decision to come to the United States had on them and the generations that followed.
My family’s stories are quintessentially American. They came to America with nothing but the clothes on their backs in pursuit of a brighter future; a future where their children could receive an education, and where upward mobility was possible. My parents embraced that dream of a bright future—they got an education, which then propelled their lives to heights that would not have been possible anywhere else in the world. They then applied their educations to careers in public service.
Like my family, you traveled distances to be here and you overcame obstacles along the way. You made the choice to uproot yourself from your birthplace, to come to this country and make a new life. Doing that requires an astounding amount of courage and determination. And for that I salute you. I hope that the joy and satisfaction that fills you today will be with you always.
Being an American citizen is a tremendous gift. My parents understood that and instilled that knowledge into me and my brother. They encouraged intellectual curiosity and taught us the importance of hard work, gratitude for all that we have, faith, and family. They also taught us to never take our birthright for granted. They remind my brother and I often of our responsibilities as Americans—our responsibility to vote, to stay abreast of current events, to speak our mind, to give to our community through volunteer efforts, and to take full advantage of the opportunity to engage in our democracy.
Each of you will now have those same freedoms, rights, and responsibilities. I hope that you will take them seriously. I urge you to participate in the public life of this country. Vote in every election. Have a genuine willingness to serve on a jury if summoned to do so. And if you feel called, run for public office. Please use your unique gifts to give to whatever community or city you choose to call home.
I am eternally grateful to my parents and grandparents for their choice to make a new life in this country. Without their courage, my life as I know it today would not have been possible. My very existence would not have been possible.
This is an amazing place to live. I love being an American citizen. My parents’ love for this country and for our system of government have influenced and inspired my life. I am the daughter of an immigrant and I now spend my life advocating each day on behalf of the United States Constitution.
From the bottom of my heart, I welcome you to this country and to your new life as American citizens. Your choice today will forever change the trajectory of your life and that of your family for generations to come. I hope that your love for America will grow with each passing day and that you will participate in our democracy because the power of this country and of our government is us. I ask you to use the power now vested in you to advance the cause of hope and opportunity. And I invite you to help write the next chapter of America’s history of freedom and equality for all.
Congratulations to each and every one of you for becoming citizens of this most blessed country.