Portland naturalization ceremony celebrates ‘richness of diversity’

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PORTLAND — They came from all corners of the world, and on April 8 they all became Americans.

Nearly 60 new citizens were sworn in at Lyman Moore Middle School Friday in a special naturalization ceremony conducted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The ceremony was also a learning experience for local students. Sixth-graders helped organize the event, served as greeters for the new citizens and their families – who came from 31 countries – and also spent time researching the countries.

Additionally, students memorized the Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” which is engraved on the Statue of Liberty; four of them recited the poem during the ceremony. The student choir also performed songs that included “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Sixth-grader Jeremiah Senita said students spent the first three classes of each day leading up to the event learning about the countries so they could interview the new citizens. Senita, who studied Guatemala, said he asked what sports were played, if they were looking forward to becoming Americans, and if they were religious.

Meghan Frank, who studied Italy, said she wanted to know what part of their former country the new citizens were from, what kinds of foods they liked, and interesting facts about the country.

“I learned they have to go through all this stuff because they want to become an American citizen,” Frank said.

Principal Steve Rogers, who addressed the packed gymnasium prior to the event, said it was the fourth time the school had hosted a naturalization ceremony. He said they were proud to do it, and it is a way to connect to the community and make learning meaningful outside the classroom.

“Our students here continue to celebrate the richness of the diversity of our school,” Rogers said.

Following a video of President Barack Obama welcoming the new citizens to America, in which the president said “no dream is impossible,” the citizens stood and were sworn in.

Edson Vassoler, from Brazil, said it “felt great” to officially be an American, and acknowledged it comes with a “big responsibility.”

“It is amazing to be here,” Vassoler, a chef at the Black Horse Tavern in Bridgton, said. “It has been a long road.”

The event also featured speeches by Ali Al Mshakheel, a former Iraqi journalist who now is a parent community specialist for the School Department’s Multilingual & Multicultural Center. Two Deering High School seniors, Salim Salim and Maryan Isack, also spoke.

Salim told the audience that being an American citizen “is about representing your community.”

“Stay true to yourself and to your beliefs,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

New U.S. citizens sworn in at a naturalization ceremony April 8 at Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland came from 31 different countries.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.