Hamilton pupils see 67 people become U.S. citizens Girl's letter brings the ceremony to school

June 05, 1993|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Staff Writer

Christy Monroe wasn't expecting a reply when she wrote to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service requesting information for a social studies project.

So it was quite a surprise for the 12-year-old Hamilton Middle School student when officials wrote her back, invited her sixth-grade class to watch a naturalization ceremony and then went one better by bringing the ceremony to her school yesterday morning.

It was the first time a naturalization ceremony was ever held at a Baltimore City public school, said Christy's social studies teacher, Al Grucelski, who collaborated with Immigration and Naturalization to bring the ceremony to Hamilton.

"This is such a learning experience for these kids who have never seen their government in action and see that it really works," said Mr. Grucelski who teaches citizenship to his sixth-grade class.

"It's difficult to get urban kids out to the source, so I like to try and bring the source to them.

"I'm hoping this will teach them about the acceptance of diversity in our country, the efforts made by many of these people to become citizens and the values we as citizens cherish," he added.

"It's also about recognizing that many of these people's personal stories on how they got here would exceed anything these children might see on TV."

Proud relatives, friends, teachers and students from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades watched intently as 67 people from 34 different countries, with right hands raised, recited the naturalization oath: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty. . . ."

New citizens, like 54-year-old Stephanie Franklin, a native of Trinidad who has been living in Maryland for 12 years, received heartfelt applause and congratulations as they walked across the stage decorated with several red, white and blue balloons.

"When I found out last Friday I was going to be sworn in, I was thrilled and excited," said Mrs. Franklin who was clutching her certificate of naturalization. "I'm so happy now."

"I have everything I want here . . .my home, my husband and my daughter," she added. "It's a good feeling."

Twenty-year-old Mohanllal Singh from Guyana and 19-year-old Siu-Yee Ng smiled as they held their certificates.

"I wasn't really excited at first," said Ms. Ng, a Hong Kong native who has lived in Baltimore for 16 years. "But now that I'm here and now that I'm a citizen, it is exciting."

After the certificates were handed out, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, welcomed the new citizens and shared a naturalization story about his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania 90 years ago.

"We are indeed a stronger country because of people like you," Mr. Cardin told the new citizens. "We need your diversity, creativity, talent and vigor to strengthen this country.

"Both my grandparents were immigrants and my district is known as the immigrant district, so I feel strongly about this ceremony," he said. "But also because it exposes young people to the truth about immigrants, showing these children that 'gee, these people aren't much different than we are.' "

"That's the lesson for these middle schoolers," he added.

And an interesting lesson it was, said many students who thought it was a "great history lesson" and a "learning experience."

For Christy Monroe, the best part was having the honor of leading the newly inducted United States citizens in their first recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"I was shocked and happy in the beginning because I didn't think they'd answer my letter," Christy said.

"But I was even happier when they asked me to do the Pledge of Allegiance.

"I was so nervous because I thought I was going to mess up the words," she added. "But I didn't, and now I'd do it all over again."

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