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Parting words

In Ronald Reagan’s last speech as president, on Jan. 19, 1989, after presenting the Medal of Freedom to Mike Mansfield (Irish ancestors) and George Shultz (German ancestors), he said:

“I think it’s fitting to leave one final thought, an observation about a country which I love. It was stated best in a letter I received not long ago. A man wrote me and said, ‘You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk or a Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American’.

“Other countries may seek to compete with us, but, in one vital area, as a beacon of freedom and opportunity that draws the people of the world, no country on Earth comes close.

“This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. By doing so, we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

The speech is called Reagan’s “love letter to immigrants.”

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