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Lincoln-West Global Studies hosts citizenship ceremony (photo gallery)




After months of tutoring candidates for U.S. citizenship, Lincoln-West School of Global Studies students watched proudly as some of their new friends became naturalized citizens.

Federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the Northern District of Ohio presided Friday at a ceremony for about 50 new citizens in the school’s auditorium. The ceremony, which would normally be conducted in U.S. District Court, held special meaning for students, school staff, the judge and the newly minted Americans.

Quiasja, a 10th-grader, spent most Wednesdays over the past few months at Building Hope in the City, where she and her classmates reviewed facts about U.S. history, laws and culture with immigrants and refugees preparing to take the test. This made for a rewarding experience as she handed each citizen a tiny American flag after Polster presented them a certificate of citizenship.

“I felt like a proud teacher watching the ceremony,” Quiasja said. “It was exciting to know that I helped them become citizens.”

Global Studies Principal Irene Javier opened the ceremony by sharing her experience of becoming a U.S. citizen after emigrating from the Philippines 10 years ago.

“I share the excitement with you today,” she said. “Today, I would like to celebrate with you and challenge you to devote yourself to the service of the children of America.”

Students in the Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps conducted the presentation of colors, while other students sang the national anthem. Judge Polster then took the stage to deliver an impassioned speech to the new citizens.

“Immigrants are the most courageous people on the planet because each of you has left everything that was familiar to you -- your family, your language, your culture,” Polster said. “You came a long way to a place where you didn’t know anyone and you figured, ‘ I can do it. I’m strong enough, I’m courageous enough, I’m entrepreneurial enough that I can build a new life.’ ”

He then called on the citizens -- who came from a countries around the globe, including Jordan, Bhutan, Canada, Croatia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Turkey, Thailand, Poland, Switzerland, Mexico and Egypt -- to raise their hand to take an oath of citizenship.

The ceremony was joyful and emotional for many of the new citizens, as well as their partners, children and friends. Dr. Ebele Odomwodo, who was joined by his wife and two young children, said he felt exhilarated. Odomwodo is practicing internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic after coming to the United States from Nigeria to pursue his medical career in 2005.

“I was just telling my wife how happy I am because it’s a thing that we’ve been looking forward to achieving, being part of the United States, the greatest country in the world,” he said.

Global Studies teacher Milena Wick was the catalyst for the school’s involvement in the tutoring and the ceremony. She came up with the idea as a way for her American history students to complete service learning -- a touchtone of the high school -- and apply their lessons in real-life situations.

Wick knows Polster through his many visits to Global Studies to teach her students “The 3 Rs” (rights, responsibilities and realities), a program developed by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. She worked with this office for three months to set the school ceremony in motion, and the payoff was worth it.

“It was like watching the whole cycle come full circle,” she said. “I had every student today tell me that it was an amazing experience to see how happy these people were to become citizens.”

It was also a lesson for her students -- those who were born in the United States and those who are immigrants and refugees themselves -- about the importance of citizenship and the responsibilities that come with it.

Her students will continue to tutor newcomers at Building Hope in the City, an experience that benefits both her students and those hoping to become citizens.

“It gives my students a sense of empowerment that they're able to help other people,” Wick said.

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