A powerful, emotional slice of America was on display June 17 at a naturalization ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and presentation of the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal to designer Ralph Lauren. On hand was Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate, along with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the Smithsonian’s Wayne Clough and John Gray and Sarah Taylor of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The 15 new Americans — from 15 different countries and 15 for the stars and stripes of the Star-Spangled Banner flag – were told by Johnson that from this point on they could say, “I’m an American, just like you.”
Lauren was cited for his multi-million-dollar contributions to conserve the tattered Star-Spangled Banner, the flag which inspired Georgetowner Francis Scott Key in 1814 to write the national anthem. In the late 1990s, Lauren worked with first lady Hillary Clinton’s Save America’s Treasures. He is “the embodiment of the American spirit,” Clough said.
Clinton cited Lauren’s parents who left Belarus and made a home in the Bronx, N.Y., where the businessman was born. America offers “the freedom to create,” she said. As for the flag, Clinton said Lauren “stepped up” and added that she could not “think of anyone more deserving” of the Smithson Medal.
Lauren spoke of stopping at the Lincoln Memorial the night before and said, “I started with nothing but good parents, a good family.” America gave him the opportunity, he said, and still continues to give him opportunity every day. The work for the Star-Spangled Banner, he said, “came from the heart,” not public relations. Lauren accepted the medal with tears of humility and patriotism.