Yarmouth student's interest leads to naturalization ceremony

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YARMOUTH — After completing her Career Exploration Project last March, Paige Reinfelder came up with the idea to hold the first-ever U.S. citizenship ceremony at Yarmouth High School.

The Career Exploration Program is an opportunity for 10th- and 11th-graders to learn firsthand about possible careers by participating in a job-shadow program.

Reinfelder spent three days at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Portland, where she observed a citizenship ceremony.

“Yarmouth, and Maine, in general, aren’t very diverse,” Reinfelder, a junior at YHS, said Nov. 27. “I think it will be good for the students to see what this ceremony means to people.”

Led by USCIS representatives, citizens will swear their oath of allegiance to the United States at the ceremony and receive a naturalization certificate. Once they receive this certificate, they can apply for a U.S. passport and vote.

The ceremony will take place in the school Performing Arts Center Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff will be the keynote speaker, and state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, will also deliver remarks.

“I feel very honored to be able to address these new citizens on their first day as Americans,” Dolloff said. “The steps they have taken to achieve citizenship … represents a level of commitment that most of us who are born here will never have to face, and they deserve our respect, admiration and support.”

The school’s Civil Rights team, which Reinfelder co-chairs, and her faculty advisor, Deborah Johansen, helped plan the event. 

Claire Scott, a junior at YHS, started the Civil Rights Team about a year ago. She said the team aims to educate their school and community about bias-related issues in the country and community.

“I see this (ceremony) as a way to both educate and raise awareness for the importance of citizenship in the United States, as well as to raise awareness about the difficulty of the citizenship process given our current political climate,” Scott said. 

Johansen’s husband was naturalized in 2016 and now has dual citizenship in Denmark and the U.S. 

“The ceremony that we attended was very emotional for everyone there,” Johansen said. “(That) is why I was so supportive of having one at YHS.”

Reinfelder said it won’t be clear how many will attend to receive citizenship next Thursday.

Reinfelder said she hopes the event, which is open to the public, will draw a big crowd of participants and spectators. 

“I think we can learn about the immigrant experience and try to understand it,” she said. “It hits home when people are able to see the joy that ceremony brings to those getting their citizenship.”

Cindy Lembarra, USCIS Maine Field Office director, said in the past year interest from schools in holding naturalization ceremonies has increased. She estimated they hold about one ceremony a month at area schools.

“They’re wonderful opportunities to bring these ceremonies to communities so they can share in the experience,” Lembarra said. “The students get to be part of the process and witness these folks become citizens.”

Reinfelder said she would like to see naturalization ceremonies happen more frequently at YHS. 

Scott added she hopes the ceremony will “help spark an interest for some students and faculty so that they can become more active and involved with raising awareness and tolerance for citizenship in the United States.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.