Looking Inside a US Citizenship Ceremony

“It was but an historical accident no doubt that this great country was called the ‘United States’; yet I am very thankful that it has that word ‘United’ in its title, and the man who seeks to divide man from man, group from group, interest from interest in this great Union is striking at its very heart.” – President Woodrow Wilson

One of my day jobs is teaching English as a Second Language to adults in my community. After about 15 years,  it truly is one of my life’s passions. I’ve often described the experience as being able to travel the world without needing a passport, but it’s so much more for me today.

From March through October last  year, I taught an evening citizenship interview prep class. In January, one of my students called me to say he had passed the interview. I was over the moon and told him how proud I was. He thanked me for my help over and over again. In the next breath he said, “Teri, you have to come to the ceremony. I want to take picture with you because you’re my teacher  You helped me.”  How could I say no to that? “Of course! I’d love to be there,” I said. On March 8, I made my way to downtown Erie to fulfill that promise.

New citizens listening to speakers at naturalization ceremony

New citizens swearing the Oath of Allegiance

The ceremony started with the new citizens swearing their Oath of Allegiance.  I’ll freely admit that I got choked up and teary eyed when I listened to the group chime the oath in unison. As I watched these 45 people pledge their allegiance to their new home, I became deeply aware that I was bearing witness to a most sacred rite of passage. The men and women sitting in front of me were no longer immigrants, refugees, or permanent residents. They were now my fellow Americans, and they were officially part of our tribe.

After the ceremony, I found my student with his friends. He was vibrating with excitement — beaming with a well-deserved pride. The feelings were so contagious that I gave him a bear hug. And, as I promised, we posed for a picture.

An old college friend once told me that one of his most treasured possessions was the photo he took with the judge on the day of his ceremony. On this day, I finally understood what he was saying.