July 1, 2011 — This July 4, Monticello will host its 49th Naturalization Ceremony, welcoming 77 new American citizens from more than 40 different nations. Muhtar Kent, president and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company and dual citizen of the United States and Turkey, will be the keynote speaker. And the NBC "Today Show" will be there broadcasting live between 8 and 9 a.m.
Among those to be naturalized this year are two U.Va. students and nine employees. The U.Va. Center for Politics' Global Perspectives on Democracy program will also bring around 20 people from Afghanistan to the celebration. And a U.Va. faculty member, Ladislava "Ladi" Carr, will be returning for the event – something she's done each year since she was naturalized at Monticello in 2009.
"This ceremony is the highlight of the year at Monticello as we celebrate Jefferson's legacy, our nation's birth and welcome new American citizens," said Lisa Stites, marketing and communication specialist at Monticello. The ceremony celebrates "the great birthday of our Republic," along with the individual journeys of the new citizens.
"The real meaning of the Fourth of July is found in the mosaic of stories told by the nation's newest citizens," she said.
Carr, a faculty member in the Continuing Medical Education Department in the School of Medicine, didn't get to tell her story in 2009. "I was sobbing too much," she said.
This Fourth of July, she'll get another chance.
"Today" contacted Carr after Monticello referred them to her. The story she shared with "Today" in a video recording to be aired during its live broadcast July 4 is similar to the one she shares here.
Originally from Velky Ujezd, Czech Republic, Carr has been a resident of Charlottesville since 2004. She first visited the United States in 1993 as a physical therapist participating in the Camp Counselor program, an organization that invites summer camp counselors from all around the world to the U.S.
Carr has lived here full time since 1999 and decided to become a U.S. citizen about three years ago.
"I was married in 2004 and in 2008 my son was born," she recalled. "I realized my family and my life are now here. So I decided to become a U.S. citizen."
In 2008 she started her one-year path to citizenship. She requested to be naturalized on July 4, 2009, at Monticello. Being a resident of Charlottesville and a University employee, Carr feels a deep connection to this historical landmark and its former owner – so much so that she named her son Sebastian Dabney Carr, after Jefferson's best friend, Dabney Carr. "Even if we move away, he will have some connection to this area," she said.
Despite her request to be naturalized at Monticello, she was initially assigned to the Charlottesville Courthouse on May 8, 2009. Not happy with the situation, she did what any American citizen would do: She wrote to her congressman, who at the time was Tom Perriello.
"I told him I really, really wanted to be naturalized at Monticello, and he made it happen," She said. Coincidentally, Perriello was the guest speaker at the Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello that year.
Ever since then, Carr and her family and friends return to Monticello to attend the Naturalization Ceremony as a way to celebrate her anniversary. "There are new people being naturalized, but I can feel how they felt… every year I can just relive my own ceremony," she said.
With such a strong tie to Monticello, Carr views Independence Day as more than a day to put burgers on the grill. She believes it's a time for reflection about the principles on which this country was founded – "I agree with them," she said.
She also feels that Monticello, Jefferson's home, is a good place to be on the Fourth. "Thomas Jefferson was one of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Jefferson actually died on the Fourth of July at Monticello. There are just so many things that are very special and are the cornerstones of this country," she said. "That is where you should be. You should go back to the roots and to the original ideas of the country."
Carr is proud to be an American treasuring the freedom and values of this nation. But as a dual citizen, she still holds onto her Czech culture. With posters of her village, and a Czech calendar in her office, she shared that June 27 was her Name Day, a celebratory custom in the Czech Republic in which each day of the year except national holidays corresponds to a personal name. People celebrate their name day on the date corresponding to their given name.
When asked how it feels to be naturalized, Carr seems overwhelmed. She marvels at how, in 1989, she got a scar on her forehead from participating in the student uprising in the former Czechoslovakia, which culminated in the demise of the Communist government. And now she is a U.S. citizen, wife, mother and faculty member at U.Va.
Carr now embraces the benefits of many worlds.