By Megan Alley
Clermont Northeastern High School played host to a naturalization ceremony on Aug. 25, during which 102 individuals, representing 40 countries, were sworn in as citizens of the United States of America.
During his introduction, T.J. Glassmeyer, principal for the high school, addressed the packed house, which was made up of petitioners, their family and friends, and the school’s student body.
“The opportunity to host all of you today is truly, truly an honor; the students have been excited all week about the possibility of witnessing you become American citizens,” he said. “I know you’ve all worked incredibly hard, and sacrificed a great deal, for the freedoms that many of us, including myself, take for granted.”
He added, “You are truly an inspiration for our students.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman presided over the ceremony. She spoke to the petitioners and also acknowledged their sacrifices to, and commitment and eagerness in becoming United States citizens.
“Your determination is truly inspiring, and I am honored to be a part of the journey,” Bowman said. “I hope that the students and staff, and those here witnessing this ceremony today, will take a moment to reflect on what it means to be an American citizen, and to have pride and respect for our great nation.”
She added, “America prospers for many reasons; one of the ways is the strength it derives from its diverse population. As all of us here know, there is great wisdom to be gained from the shared experiences of a diverse community … enabling our community and our country to grow and develop as one nation.”
Bowman went on to encourage the petitioners to exercise their freedoms and responsibilities as citizens of the United States.
“I also know that you the applicants realize the importance of the obligations you’re about to assume today. In taking the oath, you will foreswear, that is, give up your allegiance to the country of your birth … and in its place, you will pledge loyalty to the United States of America,” she said. “The rights laid out in our constitution carry a corresponding responsibility. Please exercise your first amendment right to criticize when you see fit, but always try to offer a solution. Be informed as best you can. Absorb information, and put that knowledge to work on Election Day by voting. Serve on juries when you are asked.”
She added, “We must always remember that freedom is a continuing struggle, and we owe ours to thousands of men and women who are currently serving, or have previously served, this great nation.”
Geoff Daniels, regional representative for Senator Sherrod Brown, and Robert Braggs, community outreach representative for Senator Rob Portman, also addressed the crowd.
“As your United States Senator, I am excited to welcome you as citizens of this country. The United States has a rich history of attracting citizens from around the world, and the diverse background of the population makes this a unique and special country,” Daniels said as he read a letter penned by Brown.
Vanesa DaVila-Pino, of Peru, was one of the newly naturalized citizens.
She described her feelings during the event.
“I’m very happy to become a citizen,” she said. “I’m excited and happy. I think it will be beneficial for me and my family, because of the opportunities.”
She added, “I am planning to go to college and maybe study immigration law.”
Max Vilca, also of Peru, was also one of the newly naturalized citizens. He attended the event with his wife Emily Vilca, a native of the United States, and their daughter Eliana, age 3, also a native of the United States, and Emily’s father Ken Roberts.
Max and Emily met while Emily was visiting Peru during college. The two married in 2011.
Max described his feelings during the event.
“I’m emotional,” he said. “Now, I won’t be worried about my visa or green card expiring, or paying for late fees, interviews and immigration lawyers.”
Max also noted what he most looks forward to now that he’s a United States citizen.
“I think as a U.S. citizen, I will have more opportunities for work and travel,” he said.
Emily said she was also feeling “a lot of emotions” during the event.
“I keep getting teary-eyed,” she said. “I really appreciated how the judge said that she knew the trials, suffering and challenges that came to get to this point because it’s been a really long road. Even up until the moment that [Max] said the pledge, I was nervous, and just afraid that something could go wrong.”
She added, “It’s been a long journey of paperwork, and learning how to have an international relationship too.”
Rachel Dane is a 12th-grader at the high school. She was taking pictures of the event for the school’s yearbook.
“I saw a lot of happy faces, and everyone was proud and happy that they are citizens now,” she said, adding, “We don’t have to go through this so we don’t know how hard they worked or how hard it is to be able to become a citizen, instead of being born one.”
In a post-ceremony interview, Glassmeyer further expounded on why he felt hosting the event was a positive opportunity for the high school.
“I think it’s important for our students to understand the process of legal immigration, and understand the sacrifices that these new citizens made to be here … I think it’s very powerful,” he said. “I think it’s a great lesson for our students in how valuable our freedoms are, and everything that we have.”
He added, “This is the first naturalization ceremony that we’ve held, and I would hope to be able to continue it every school year. I think it’s a great way to kick off the school year.”
Countries represented at the ceremony were Australia, Bhutan, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo-Kinshasa, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Poland, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.