The morning of Thursday, March 29 offered a unique learning opportunity to seniors at West Seneca West Senior High School as they witnessed 53 people representing 25 countries take an Oath of Allegiance to become United States citizens during a Naturalization Ceremony in the school’s auditorium. After enjoying refreshments in the cafeteria and music by the school’s string nonet, the Honorable Leslie G. Foschio began the event with opening remarks to all in attendance, including Superintendent Matthew Bystrak, Principal Jay Brinker and retired Superintendent Dr. Mark J. Crawford.
“It’s a little damp outside today but it will not dampen our spirits here,” Foschio said. “This is truly a joyful occasion for all the candidates for United States citizenship and their families and their loved ones. It’s a privilege for me to be here to preside.”
He continued to speak, sharing about the importance of citizenship, serving on juries and exercising the right to vote. “We want to have a strong democracy and encourage you all to participate in your fullest capacity as United States citizens.”
Laura Low was next to approach the mic. Aside from teaching Spanish, Low advises 40 dedicated students in the high school’s International Relations Club (IRC). This is the club’s second year hosting the ceremony on campus, in collaboration with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“We cannot be happier to be here this morning,” she said. “We are proud to be celebrating this day with you so thank you for the opportunity.”
Leading up to the event, USCIS Community Outreach representatives visited participation in government and economics classes to educate students about the process of becoming a naturalized citizen.
“IRC has opened my eyes to how important diversity is in our community and how a small group, such as a bunch of high school teens, can band together to welcome so many different and new cultures,” added senior student and IRC President Bailey Bishop. “The club truly brings out not only the generosity of my fellow students but also the love our world could always use more of. Our club is about exploring new cultures, learning about differences and celebrating our global citizenship. With that being said, on behalf of IRC, I would like to say what an honor it is to have this ceremony here at our school and congratulate all of you on your big day.”
For several years, IRC has collaborated with Journey’s End Refugee Services to fully furnish apartments for incoming refugee families. Through Journey’s End, Low had the opportunity to meet and get to know Bishnu Adhikari, an employment specialist with the organization. Touched by his story, Adhikari was asked to speak at the Naturalization Ceremony.
“Thank you so much to Laura Low who invited an immigrant like me to say something in front of the judge and the great American people,” he shared before reading an original poem he wrote about being a refugee and sharing his story about the years he spent living at a refugee camp. “I was born in a country called Buton, which is between Asia, China and India. I enjoyed my life but after 1985 we were persecuted and started to be in a refugee camp in Nepal. I choose the USA as my new home. I went to the City of Buffalo to Journey’s End Refugee Services in 2009. Finally, in 2015 I became a citizen. It happened with the help and kindness of Americans and the great nation. Now I’ve got my home to enjoy in this great nation. Thank you all for helping me and lifting me up that hill.”
USCIS Officer Sonia Croxie followed Adhikari by introducing each of the candidates, representing countries such as Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Pakistan, Poland, the UK and Yemen to name a few. “Each person has voluntarily come forward to take his or her own declaration of independence from all former loyalties just as our founding fathers did over 240 years ago.”
The candidates were then asked to stand and recite an Oath of Allegiance, led by Courtroom Deputy Giuseppe Ippolito, followed by The Pledge of Allegiance and music by West Senior’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble. They were then introduced one at a time to receive their certificate and an American flag and meet members of local civic groups.
“Being an American is not to be a race, it is not to be a religion,” Brinker said in his closing remarks. “Being an American is being proud. All men and women are created equal. We are a land of the people, by the people, for the people. Congratulations on becoming American citizens.”