MENTOR, Ohio — In 1881, Ohioan James Garfield swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States when he was sworn in as the nation's 20th president, a position created by that very Constitution that was signed 235 years ago this weekend. And so his home in Mentor seemed the perfect place for the newest group of Americans to take their own oath to that Constitution as they became American citizens.
“As we commemorate the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution, James A. Garfield National Historic Site is proud to host this naturalization ceremony,” said Site Manager Todd Arrington. “President Garfield’s life was the embodiment of the American promise that you can accomplish anything if you work hard and constantly strive to learn and improve. Similarly, these new citizens have come to America seeking better lives for themselves and their families, and they are now part of that promise that makes our nation unique in the world. This makes James A. Garfield National Historic Site the perfect place for these fine people to take their citizenship oath.”
The group of more than two dozen included folks like Ardita Lilalj who came to this country from Albania three years ago.
"I am grateful and thankful to the United States of America for every opportunity it has given to me, to have a good job to have the right to vote today," she said.
Kinjal Patel moved here with her family from India in 2014 but the Cleveland State University nursing student carries with her a smile a mile wide.
"Today I am a citizen," she said.
They are two of those who came here this morning as foreigners but leave as Americans, protected by the very constitution they just pledged to defend having completed the classes and jumped through the hoops involved in the naturalization process. Something not lost on those gathered with them to celebrate. A group that includes the great, great grandson of President Garfield.
"Today in order to be a part of this country of ours you have to study, you have to learn the constitution," said Tim Garfield. "You don't realize how much these people go through to become citizens of this country when we're lucky enough to be born into it."
But as with many families, there are ancestors who, like those taking the oath here, came to these shores at one time to ensure that their descendants would enjoy the protections and benefits this nation provides.
This ceremony, on this site, heading into this weekend especially poignant for it marks yes the birth of the Constitution in 1787 but also the loss of Garfield himself 94 years later, struck down by an assassin’s bullet and dying September 19,1881 just six months after taking his oath.