Palatine students welcome new American citizens
Twenty-six people become U.S. citizens in Palatine ceremony
Right hands raised, 26 men and women from 18 countries assembled Wednesday in Palatine to pledge allegiance to their adoptive country.
Though naturalization ceremonies with proud friends and family standing by are a frequent occurrence, this particular gathering had a special audience.
Hundreds of Winston Campus Junior High students filled the gym to bear witness, marking only the second time an Illinois school has hosted such an event.
"I thought this could be an intensely powerful experience for our students while also tying in various lessons in the curriculum," Assistant Principal Scott Scafidi said.
The idea came to Scafidi after he was invited to attend a naturalization ceremony last fall at a Chicago elementary school. He learned that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been partnering with Citizenship Counts to give students the ultimate interactive civics lesson.
The Phoenix-based nonprofit organization is committed to educating middle and high school students on the tenets of citizenship, inspiring their pride in America and encouraging them to participate in community service.
The ceremony featured a videotaped message from President Obama and a recurring theme of not taking new privileges for granted and the importance of giving back.
"Throughout our history, the lasting contributions of immigrants have shaped our national identity, formed the idea of the American dream and built upon the foundations of freedom and equality established by our founders," said Pauline Woodson, a supervisory immigrations services officer.
In his keynote address, Citizenship Counts board member Sam Harris read an essay he wrote as a 15-year-old, three years after coming to the U.S. from Europe. He survived two concentration camps in Poland, but his entire family was killed. Harris helped lead the effort to build the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.
The ceremony seemed to resonate with many of the new U.S. citizens, who didn't take their oath lightly.
South African native David Annandale of Villa Park, who came to the U.S. in 2005, said he's glad to be a citizen because he'll always be close to his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
Guatemala native Marco Lopez, now of Arlington Heights, said he started the citizenship process seven years ago.
"Now I can vote, which means a lot to me," Lopez said.
Also in attendance were Citizenship Counts board member Diane Eckstein and her husband, John. Along with their dog, Kipp, they're in the midst of a 3,500-mile walk and bike ride from San Diego to New York City to promote engaged citizenship and raise awareness about the naturalization process.
Their four-month journey includes naturalization ceremonies in multiple cities and wraps up next month.