On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Kingswood Oxford student body, faculty, and staff gathered in Roberts Theater to witness an official United States Naturalization ceremony.
Representing 19 different countries from across the globe, 30 applicants were sworn in as United States citizens at a ceremony organized by Upper School history teacher Stacey Savin and Executive Assistant to the Head of School Sherri Malinoski, as well as other KO administrators.
The students in attendance watched in respectful silence as the ceremony unfolded, listening to the moving words of faculty members, student singers, and the eager applicants taking their oath of allegiance, ultimately erupting into an applause-filled standing ovation.
Judge Robert Chatigny, a former KO parent and spouse of Ms. Savin, presided over the ceremony in his role as a judge of the federal court of Connecticut. Applicants for citizenship came from countries like Finland, Peru and Ecuador, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and India and Bangladesh.
Head of School Tom Dillow opened the assembly at 9:00 a.m. with an introduction regarding the importance of the ceremony. “We are a far more interesting, a far more vibrant, and a far more authentic country because of our diversity,” Mr. Dillow said. He talked about what it means to be an American citizen, and as it was Election Day, Mr. Dillow urged everyone eligible to exercise their right to vote.
Following Mr. Dillow’s remarks, the Kingswood Oxford choir Outlook performed the National Anthem. “It was really cool to sing our country’s anthem at the ceremony,” junior Outlook member Ethan Raisner said. “You could tell how much it meant to all the applicants and how excited they were.” Many of the applicants could be seen recording the performance on their phones.
The ceremony continued with speeches from two KO faculty members, boys varsity soccer Head Coach Hikmet Aslan and Upper School Chinese teacher Naogan Ma. Both Mr. Aslan and Mrs. Ma recounted their experiences becoming US citizens and what it meant to them. They described their favorite parts about living in America and what opportunities citizenship has given them, and offering some words of wisdom to the applicants.
Mrs. Ma stressed the importance of engagement in American rights and taking advantage of the ability to advocate for your children. “Make this land a better place than when you first landed here,” she said.
Mr. Aslan mentioned the struggles of starting a new life, but also how it was all worth it in the end. “We left a very good life in Turkey to give our son a better life,” he said. “I was a professional soccer player and my wife was a top financial advisor.” He went on to urge the applicants to make the most of their citizenship. “Bring your cultures to enrich our country,” he said.
Judge Chatigny explained the steps each applicant had taken to be eligible for citizenship, including submitting an application, undergoing examination by an immigration officer, being fingerprinted and passing an English and civics test. He went on to outline the privileges of being an American citizen. “At its heart, our Constitution enshrines principles of liberty and equality,” Judge Chatigny said. “These principles, liberty and equality, are complementary in nature. Working together they make the United States a land of opportunity for all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or national origin.”
After a motion was made to complete the naturalization process, Judge Chatigny had the applicants stand and repeat the oath of citizenship. Upon completion of the oath, the KO student body rose to their feet, clapping enthusiastically. “I think it was cool having our entire school involved in such an important moment in so many people’s lives,” sophomore Natalia Correa said.
Each new American citizen was called up on stage and presented with their documentation as a United States citizen. It appeared to be an exciting and emotional experience for all the applicants and their loved ones. One family from Bangladesh watched intently as their adult son received his citizenship. “To become a citizen is very exciting,” the family said.
Three granddaughters of Mexican origin watched as their grandmother received her citizenship. Their mother, also in attendance, felt especially proud to witness her elderly mother’s achievement with three generations of their family present. “Estoy muy feliz,” she said.
Another new citizen, Mafalda, from the Dominican Republic, who has been living in the US since 2001, was thrilled to finally receive her citizenship. “Having my citizenship means freedom to me,” Mafalda said. “I’m free to do things, I’m free to participate in things. Even if I could do it before, I didn’t feel entitled. But now I feel like I have a voice.”
Mr. Dillow expressed hope that KO students would walk away from the assembly with a better understanding of what it means to be an American citizen. “This was a powerful example of what this country is about, and why we were formed,” Mr. Dillow said. “I think we lose that often today because of the polarizing politics. In the end, those are petty squabbles and really we are all in the same boat together.””