(By Anita Rios Moore, Public Affairs Officer, USCIS Northeast Region)
My work at USCIS allows me to attend countless naturalization ceremonies and witness hundreds of people becoming new Americans. After a while, you might think that these events would start to feel routine. But they never have - I still get caught up emotionally each time I go.
The ceremony I attended recently at Burlington High School in Vermont was no different. While waiting in the hallway to greet attending members of the media, I listened as students flooded into the auditorium. I wondered: Would they take what was happening to heart? Would they fully grasp the life-changing impact of this event for the 40 new citizens on the stage?
The answer to both questions was a resounding “Yes!”
When the ceremony began, the auditorium was overflowing with around 1,000 students and guests, each alive with anticipation. The stage had been transformed into a temporary court room, with Chief U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss presiding.
Among the guest speakers was one of Burlington High School’s own: Lueth Lueth. A recently naturalized American citizen from southern Sudan, Lueth faced his classmates and, with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin only a few feet away, shared his long journey to citizenship. He described a childhood full of responsibilities. By age 12, he had learned to do for himself, and, after many interviews and much paperwork, Lueth was able to seize the opportunity to come to Vermont with his cousin.
“Vermont is very cold. School was hard and challenging to adapt to while learning English. Yet, six years later, I am a snowboarder!” Lueth proudly exclaimed as the room erupted with applause. He described the citizenship process: Interviews, fingerprinting and having to take a test. “A very hard test,” he said. “But last month my dream came true. I have the feeling of freedom. I belong to two parts of the world.” He finished his story by welcoming the soon-to-be Americans, and was given a standing ovation by all in attendance.
Gov. Shumlin then addressed the candidates, welcoming them on behalf of Vermont and telling them how excited he was about being a part of the ceremony.
After taking the Oath of Allegiance, the 40 new citizens were enthusiastically and warmly welcomed by Burlington High School’s student body—at which point Gov. Shumlin turned to Chief Justice Reiss and said, “This has to be the most exciting experience of your job.” It was a statement I could truly take to heart and agree with. Citizenship ceremonies are indeed exciting and extremely gratifying for those of us who work at USCIS and have the honor to take part in, or even preside over, them.
And by event’s end, the students were captivated—and I knew the ceremony would have a lasting impact on them as well.