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The Postscript: “New Citizens”

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I’d never been to a U.S. citizenship ceremony before. I’d never even thought about it much. I knew the process took a long time but, beyond that, I knew nothing about it, until I was invited to one.
My dear friend, Betty, was coming in from out of town to attend the citizenship ceremony of her son-in-law, Raul. Raul is a quiet and soft-spoken man who works in corporate catering. He has been waiting to become an American citizen for many years and finally, last Thursday, he became one.
I wasn’t expecting much, but I was looking forward to seeing Betty. She had recently turned 80, and I hadn’t seen her in ages. It took a long time to get all the families of all the soon-to-be new citizens seated, so we had a lot of time to catch up. Then the ceremony started.
The 136 new citizens sat in the rows up front, and their friends and family sat in rows of seats behind them. The huge former railroad station was nearly filled before the ceremony started.
A judge stood behind the podium and, after a few administrative details were dealt with, introduced the 76 countries where the citizens came from and encouraged them to wave their American flags when she read their country.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she added. “This is America, after all.”
It was an amazing spectacle as, one by one, the new citizens waved their flags as their countries were named, and the families sitting behind them cheered. Some countries were a lot noisier than you might expect. I think the New Zealanders were some of the loudest, and there were not that many of them.
People laughed and applauded and waved flags, and we all sang the national anthem together. Then the judge made a few comments. She started by quoting Ronald Reagan.
“We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people—our strength—from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so, we continuously renew and enrich our nation.”
The judge congratulated them on completing the long and arduous process that had brought them to this day, and talked about their responsibilities and rights as new citizens. She told them she knew most of them had to get back to work and get on with their lives, but she encouraged them to take time, at some point in the day, to celebrate.
“You will have a birthday every year and celebrate the holidays every season. But you will only have one day in your life when you become an American citizen.”
Then they played “America the Beautiful,” and there were quite a few people crying, including Betty.
I’m not sure what I expected. But if you ever want to have a renewed appreciation for the U.S., I recommend you go to watch 136 immigrants getting their citizenship.
The sun was shining outside as all the families and friends gathered with the new citizens, still holding their flags. And I realized I had no idea what it was like for my family when they were new citizens. I didn’t know if there was a ceremony or if they were given a small flag. I didn’t know if they took a test, as these folks had, or sang the national anthem. I knew nothing about it. And I was sorry about that.
“What a wonderful ceremony!” I said to Betty.
“I didn’t know it would be so nice,” Betty agreed.
Then we all went out to lunch, and we celebrated.

Happy 4th of July,

Carrie

Carrie Classon

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