Students learn about citizenship at NBJH naturalization ceremony
Taiwanese immigrant Chia Jung Tai (center) of Hoffman Estates and Haitian immigrant Yvens Evrard of Waukegan read the Oath of Allegiance during a Naturalization Ceremony at Northbrook Junior High Friday. | Ruthie Hauge~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:59AM
They were short and tall, thin and fat. Blond and brunette, black, white and shades in between.
They were Asian, European, Mexican and Scandinavian.
They came from Belarus and Brazil, Germany and Guatemala, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland and 15 other countires.
In short, the 52 new American citizens gathered in the gym at Northbrook Junior High Friday were pretty much like any cross section of America, a mix of languages, cultures, religions and traditions.
As U. S. District Court Judge Edmond E. Chang told them as he administered the oath of citizenship, “No one group can lay claim to America. You will add your energy, your ideas and hard work tithe American culture.”
Chang brought his own history to the event, talking about a couple from Taiwan living in New York who took the same oath in 1975.
“Those immigrants came here a long way. They came here to make a better life. Those immigrants were my parents.”
Chang, who lives in Northbrook, also took a moment to waive to his own daughter who was playing in the school orchestra.
“I’m thrilled to be here because in a few minutes I will administer the oath,” Chang said.
The naturalization ceremony at the school Friday brought together the 52 new citizens and with their friends and family as well as students who attended as part of their Citizenship Counts program, a curriculum designed to give them a better understanding of value and responsibilities of citizenship.
For one woman from India, the day was special as she obtained her citizenship after 10 years in the United States. The Des Plaines resident, there with her husband who was already a citizen, clutched the envelope with her citizenship certificate.”
“I lead a good life, I know,” she said. “I am proud of that.”
In perpetration for the naturalization ceremony Debra Gordon, associate counsel of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, noted that the swearing in ceremony for new citizens is usually held in a federal courtroom. She promptly designated the gym, for the purpose of the ceremony, as a federal courtroom.
Members of the Northbrook Junior High Wind Ensemble, Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra provided music before, during and after the ceremony.
Much of the talk at the ceremony revolved around the responsibilities of citizenship.
In a DVD video welcome to the new citizens, President Barack Obama said, “with the privilege of citizenship comes great responsibility.”
Sam Harris, a Holocaust survivor and 1950 graduate of Northbrook Junior High said “I discovered the wonders of giving back to America.”
He talked about his volunteer work with the Boy Scouts, United Way and as president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.
Reading from an essay he wrote at age 15, Harris said “America is indeed the best place on earth.”
“Here the people are masters of government, not the other way around,” Chang told the new citizens. “This is the beginning of your rights and responsibilities as citizens.”
The ceremony also marked the culmination of the students’ study of citizenship.
“Citizenship Counts’ A Journey That Counts” is, a 3,500-mile bike and walk across the country to inspire pride in America.
Citizenship Counts founder Gerda Weissmann Klein, was to speak at the naturalization ceremony, but was sick and could not attend.
Members of the Northbrook Junior High School Social Studies Department expressed their excitement for the event.
“Citizenship is a concept we teach through Social Studies in all three grade levels at Northbrook Junior High School,” one teacher said. “We welcome and appreciate this unique opportunity for students to experience a real life application of the key concepts they’ve studied over the years.”
“Citizenship Counts’ A Journey that Counts” is traveling across the United States and participating in celebrations of citizenship, such as this one at Northbrook Junior High, in several communities across the country.
On Jan. 27 Citizenship Counts’ board member Diane Eckstein and her husband, John, began a 3,500-mile trip across America with their dog, Kipp, to promote engaged citizenship and raise awareness about the naturalization process. Throughout the trip, Citizenship Counts has provided middle and high school classrooms with free, multi-disciplinary lessons that teach students about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of our country and how immigration has created a diverse and inclusive America.
The Ecksteins’ inspirations for their Journey are Gerda Weissmann Klein’s life and the work of Citizenship Counts.
“We are proud to be Americans,” the Ecksteins said “and hope that our Journey will inspire and educate young people to be good, participating citizens.”
The Ecksteins maintain a blog on the Citizenship Counts website where supporters can track their progress. Their dog, Kipp, has his own blog, describing his experiences as he travels across America. Additional details about the Journey can also be found on Facebook (CitizenshipCounts) and Twitter (@CitizenshipCnts).