Since her 2006 retirement from the Supreme Court, O'Connor said she has been working to launch iCivics.org, a free online program geared to teach young children about civic responsibility.
After the ceremonies at the Constitution Center, O'Connor stopped by Andrew Jackson Elementary School in South Philadelphia to speak to students about iCivics and swear in the school's 35-member student council in a wood-paneled kindergarten classroom.
Outfitted in a stately lilac jacket, the 81-year-old jurist commanded the students to raise their right hands to take their oath and challenged them to engage in the political process.
She echoed remarks from an earlier news conference, where she declared: "This knowledge is not handed down in the gene pool. They [students] don't inherit the knowledge. We have to teach every generation again and again and again what it consists of and how we as citizens can be part of it."
Her tour of the city was far more uneventful than a previous visit on July 4, 2003, when the Constitution Center honored her with its annual Liberty Medal. At that event, she was nearly struck by a heavy beam that fell during the ceremonial drawing of a giant curtain to unveil the center's 40-foot-tall glass main entrance.
Earlier Friday in the center's F.M. Kirby Auditorium, O'Connor joined U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in administering the oath during the naturalization ceremony for 48 applicants from 18 countries.
One was Johnette Gabrie, a 28-year-old mother of four who emigrated in 2001 from Liberia to escape the violence of the African nation's civil war.
Gabrie said that during the fighting in her native city of Monrovia, she was forced to separate from her family and hide in a remote bush region.
"It was so horrible," she said. "Who knows if I'm going to die. I was just there by the grace of God."
Gabrie immigrated to Baltimore and moved to Philadelphia in 2003. She said she had always dreamed of coming to the United States, and hopes to attend beauty school and someday open her own salon.
"I feel so good," she said moments before taking the oath. "I'm feeling happy. I'm feeling like everything is fine for me because I'm a citizen of America."
Another new citizen, Nehal Patel, 25, moved from her native Gujarat, India, in 2008 to live with her husband, Pinekin. Patel, who said the most difficult part of her acclimation to American life was learning to drive, works as a medical technician in Hatfield.
"It's the land of opportunity," she said. "I want to be a citizen so I can get all the rights of citizenship."
After they took the oath, many of the new citizens clutched small American flags.
"You who have become citizens today understand better than most Americans today what you can achieve in your sacrifice," O'Connor said.
O'Connor said for these new citizens, the next step beyond living in the United States and contributing to the economy is engaging in the country's political system.
"You will bring new strength to our nation," she said. "Be part of it."
Contact staff writer Reity O'Brien at 215-854-2917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.