Dowling: On becoming a citizen

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(HOST) Recently, commentator Leora Dowling witnessed an event where she felt an old-fashioned surge of pride in this country and its people.

(DOWLING) It was Constitution Day – also known as Citizenship Day – and I was on my way to work at the Shelburne Museum, where a special naturalization ceremony was to be held on the steamboat, Ticonderoga.

The ceremony began at 2 and from my post on the Ti I could see the soon-to-be-citizens arriving; they stood out in their best dresses, their jackets and ties.  Some had time to tour the boat and I talked with a young man from Scotland and another from India, a woman from China, and one from Lithuania who told me her daughter had been born here.

All were excited, and I was excited for them.

It takes years to become a naturalized citizen.  Secretary of State Deb Markowitz commented on the process in her opening remarks noting that each person being sworn in had displayed commendable perseverance, intelligence and desire as they maneuvered through the complicated immigration system – and passed a written test that many of us who were born here would likely fail.  These attributes, she rightly said, are just what America needs in all its citizens.

Judge William Sessions, who presided over the ceremony, spoke of the mixed emotions he knew some were feeling. He said it was natural to still love your homeland even if it is plagued by war and poverty. And he acknowledged that each of them had walked a unique path, one that had brought them here to Vermont, where on this bright, breezy afternoon they were about to swear allegiance to a new flag and a new nation.

He asked them to raise their right hands and repeat, in unison, a pledge of commitment to the United States and renounce all other national ties.  Then each new American was called forward to get official documents and congratulations.  Proud family members or friends took photos, which I know have already been sent to Bangladesh and Bosnia over the Internet. One encounter will always stay with me: a much older woman wearing a bright pink blouse sat in the front row, beaming.  Her eyes were bright as she made her way down the receiving line, heartily shaking hands and saying "thank you" – rather loudly – in a thick East European accent. I can only imagine her story.  After the ceremony when I went over to say hello she just pumped my hand and said "thank you" over and over again.  Then she suddenly reached out and hugged me tight.  There were no more words. We were both in tears. Others were crying too – tears of joy, accomplishment, relief, possibility and pride.

Even for those who had lived in America for years it felt like a new beginning.  I know I felt like a kid again.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Leora Dowling on line at VPR-dot-net.

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