me, my sister, Bita, and my mom, Eshe, when I was a kid. Dreaming of going to the White House someday.

I was recently informed that the US Government had chosen me as an Outstanding American by Choice. This recognition was established by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2006 to recognize the significant contributions and achievements of naturalized U.S. Citizens. I didn’t know what to think and then it got real when Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, called me. He told me to call him Ali, when we first began talking. He helped me calm down a bit and prepare for the ceremony. I’ll be joining 80 other Americans recognized since 2006 by this award including naturalized American Citizens like Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and actor Andy Garcia. First thing I did was call my parents and shared the news. Through their tears I could hear their pride and their immense gratitude to this incredible nation. America has given my family so much and we owe our very lives and every ounce of our energy to give back to it.

 

As a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, I  am blessed to see a constant flow of incredible talent from all points of this planet who dream of coming to America and building their companies here. Silicon Valley in particular is a beautiful patchwork quilt of cultures and people from everywhere pursuing their version of the American Dream. It behooves us to open up to more talent and to retain those who come here for our incredible University systems. Let’s staple visas to those graduate degrees and welcome their brilliance to the continuing American story. We are a nation of immigrants. It just turns out each of our families have different naturalization dates. It’s why I co-founded Startup Visa and have proposed a “MacArthur Genius Prize” for US Citizenship where we go from passive immigration to active recruitment of the most brilliant minds of the world to join us as Americans.

 

Silicon Valley is the closest we have to a highly efficient meritocracy (granted, it’s not perfect) it’s a place that at it’s best is based on people advancing forward based on the quality of their talent, execution and character. The circumstances of ones birth has very little to do with whether one can succeed or fail in Silicon Valley. You could literally come here with nothing but your talent and make your dreams come true. If you want our respect, gear up and enter the arena of entrepreneurship and be willing to die and battle for your idea to win the hearts and minds of those in the stands. The users who vote with their time, money and passion count here- nothing else. No pedigree or birth right can give one the legitimacy and honor that hundreds of millions of users can. Merit matters more. Always. Those values represent the best of American values around achievement.

 

The common bond that unites us as Americans is that we are eternal optimists. We always believe in second chances. We welcome failure as a journey to success. We don’t believe that the circumstances of our birth pre-determine the outcomes of our life’s stories. We write our chapters in our American story. And that collective story is a movement of freedom that will continue to inspire us and to inspire the world. Sometimes I believe that we as Americans have become too hard on ourselves. We have allowed too much negativity to creep into our own view of ourselves. America is great. Americans are great. We have too much going for us and together we can continue to reinvent ourselves and bring opportunity to all Americans. We need a movement of American Optimism- a movement of positivity that celebrates our strengths, recognize our weaknesses and unites beyond ephemeral labels that pale to the most important label of all- American. Together we can innovate, invent, solve and continue to scale the American promise to include all Americans. 

 

I will take this occasion to thank Director Alejandro Mayorkas and President Barack Obama for this recognition. I do not think I deserve it and promise to devote ever more of my energy to giving back and earning the faith that you have shown in me.

 

With that I want to thank my fellow Americans who have helped create and sustain an ever more tolerant nation that welcomes talent from all walks of life. America is not just a physical place. It’s an idea. It’s a vision. It’s an American soul. It’s an American dream. And it’s worth the fighting for. It’s worth the hard work to keep that dream alive and a reality for all Americans.

 

I am now heading to the ceremony at NASA Research Park in Moffett Field. I will post a link to my speech later when it is ready. 

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