Frank F Islam
November 30, 2017
Thank you for that kind introduction.
It is truly special for me to be here at this naturalization ceremony today. It is truly special for three reasons:
The first reason is being asked to speak at this naturalization ceremony in the JFK Library. When I was a youth growing up in India JFK was my hero. He was a source of inspiration for me in my youth. I could never have imagined an honor such as this.
The second reason this is truly special is having the opportunity to address you my fellow immigrants. The third is joining all of you as a participant in this ceremony itself.
I became a citizen of the United States of America in Baltimore, Md. in 1984. And, I am using it to celebrate my citizenship and to renew my vows as an American citizen. Thank you for this privilege.
I can tell you that when I became a citizen I was overjoyed at the opportunity to pursue the American dream and was overwhelmed by the awesome responsibility that comes with being a citizen in the greatest democracy in the world. I will share some of my thoughts on those feelings latter.
Let me begin, however, by stating that as I look around at you new citizens in this audience: I see the diversity that is America’s strength. I see me in you. And, I see America’s future
I see the diversity that is America’s strength. We need to celebrate the richness of our diversity. It is diversity that makes us strong. Diversity should bring us together. And together we can build a stronger and fairer America. And together we can help shape a better future for America.
You are here from scores of countries and varying backgrounds and beliefs. But, you are united in the fact that you are all dreamers. You are here to pursue your dreams and to renew the American dream.
I see me in you. Each of our stories is different but we share a common bond – the bond of the immigrant’s journey.
Let me tell you a little about my journey. I was born in India. While I was attending Aligarh Muslim University as a student, I met Wolfgang Thron, a visiting college professor of Mathematics from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. He convinced me that I should go to the America to pursue expanded opportunities and get a cutting edge education in the emerging field of computer science.
So, even though it was scary, at the age of 16, I decided to leave my family and friends in India with thirty five dollars in my pocket.
While I was at Boulder I made friends and hung out with a number of other immigrant students and supported myself by working in fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Shaky’s pizza. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from University of Colorado to pursue my life-long dream of owning my own business.
I did not come from a family that owned a business. I had no personal experience or role model in business.
Therefore, I decided to do my apprenticeship and to learn the ropes by going to work in two large IT companies. That enabled me to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities required to succeed in business.
With that experience, I felt ready to go out on my own and I acquired an IT Company in Washington, DC, in 1994 for $45,000. My wife Debbie and I had to mortgage our home to do that.
I must admit the first years were not easy. I worked 12 hour days seven days a week for little to no pay. There were some difficult times but we persisted despite obstacles and challenges.
With the help of a wonderful management team that I recruited over time, we built that company from 1 employee – me – to more than 3,000 employees and an annual revenue of more than $300 million dollars. The team of talented managers were central to everything. Success in business is team sport. So, when people asked me how I became successful, it was not me but we who made it happen.
It is America that provided me with ladders of opportunity to succeed. I am a recipient of America’s kindness and generosity. My story reaffirms the notion that America is a land of opportunity. My story also shows that America is a nation of inclusion, openness, opportunity, democracy, and freedom. All of us can proudly and truly embrace these values and qualities of America
In 2007, after 13 years, I sold the company to Perot Systems. That sale allowed me to move on to the current stage of my career to philanthropy focused primarily on education, the arts and civic engagement.
That is my journey and my immigrant’s story. I know that each of you has yours. They are stories of grit and determination.
But, they are not just our stories. They are actually the American story.
With the exception of the Native Americans, we are all immigrants. Given his Irish immigrant roots, John F. Kennedy understood that completely.
In 1958, before he became President, JFK wrote a book titled A Nation of Immigrants. In that book, Kennedy observed:
The abundant resources of this land provided the foundations for a great nation. But only people could make the opportunity a reality. Immigrations provided the human resources. More than that, it infused the nation with a commitment to far horizons and new frontiers, and thereby kept the pioneer spirit of American life, the spirit of equality and of hope always alive and well.
I agree with President Kennedy’s observation that we are a nation of immigrants. Let me add my personal observation that immigrants make America a great nation.
As I said near the outset of my remarks, when I look at you I see America’s future. I see new recruits who will continue to push this great nation to “far horizons and new frontiers.”
I am an advocate of promoting the value of immigrants and immigration. I am extremely positive about the future for America. I am extremely positive because of the courage, tenacity and indomitable spirit of you my fellow immigrants who I know are committed to being the best that you can be in everything you do.
Therefore, from that perspective, let me make one request that is especially relevant for this ceremony and in these contentious times.
That is “Be a 21st Century Citizen.” This is an important request because a nation is no better than its citizens.
In fact, the citizens are the nation – whether it’s a farmer, a factory worker, an entrepreneur, a teacher, an immigrant, a politician, we are all citizens and how we assemble ourselves and what we accomplish defines the fabric, psyche and soul of the country.
Over the past few years, there have been a lot of complaints regarding our politics, our politicians, and our government. Some of that criticism is warranted.
On the other hand, we must remember that the United States is a representative democracy. At the end of the day, we get the politicians and the government we deserve.
If we don’t like things in this great democracy of ours, we can change them. That is our right and responsibility as citizens.
President Kennedy said, “In a democracy, every citizen regardless of his interest in politics or holds office, every one of us is in a position of responsibility. The kind of government we get depends on how we fulfill those responsibilities.”
I ask you to fulfill those responsibilities by being a 21st Century Citizen who plays in the “3-I” League:
- Be Informed – do your homework, get all the facts
- Be Independent – exercise your personal judgment
- Be Involved – get engaged pro-actively on issues that matter to you
When you commit to being a 21st century citizen and playing in that league, you will be renewing America and the American dream.
On this day of days, you are becoming fully invested in that dream. As immigrants and the future of America, I know that you will make great contributions to ensure that dream is even stronger and better for the citizens of this immigrant nation.
Thanks for allowing me to share this special day with you and telling you what I see. I wish all of you a continued success. God bless you and the United States of America.