By MADELINE HUGHES
A sunny, breezy Monday and Lake Champlain provided an idyllic backdrop as 15 new Americans celebrated Constitution Day by taking the Oath of Allegiance to become citizens on board Shelburne Museum’s Steamboat Ticonderoga.
Family and friends stood by to watch as 15 Vermonters from 12 different countries became U.S. citizens in the formal ceremony.
They each took the oath renouncing citizenship from their home countries, pledging allegiance now to the United States.
U.S. Vermont district Judge William K. Sessions III presided over the solemn affair and addressed the new citizens, their families and guests: “You each choose to set aside loyalty” to former countries, he said, acknowledging there may be sadness in those choices.
Sessions said he hoped that each would come away from the ceremony with “a new dedication and a new sense of hope” for the country.
Sessions shared a story about how in his 23 years as a judge, he has been touched by those he has seen become citizens. After a recent surgery, many of the nurses and other care providers he met along the way told him that he was the judge who presided over their naturalization ceremonies.
Looking at the group before him, Sessions said that among those gathered may be nurses, doctors, teachers, plumbers, lawyers, electricians, police officers, and indeed someday judges “who all contribute to enrich our lives. And in a multicultural country like ours we are all enriched by stories from your own culture, and your own traditions.
“And on behalf of all of us who have benefitted from your presence and your continued presence, we both welcome you as U.S. citizens and we thank you for all you have given to us by being here,” he said.
Krystal Gopaul was particularly touched by Sessions’ story. The South Burlington resident decided to forego her Canadian citizenship to become an American in pursuit of studying to be a doctor.
“There is a need in communities,” Gopaul said. She added that with increasing diversity in the country, “It helps to have immigrants to fill those needs culturally and linguistically.”
When she welcomed the crowd, Shelburne Museum’s Director of Finance Berenice Sarafzade shared her immigration story. In Virginia 15 years ago she was in the same position, about to get her citizenship.
“It seems like an eternity, like you are a child waiting for the chocolate chip cookies to come out of the oven,” Sarafzade said.
New naturalized citizens, she said, work hard and have a different understanding of citizenship than Americans born into the privileges and responsibilities of being a citizen.
“We have to work hard to be good citizens, to be active members of society, and to contribute as much as we can,” Sarafzade said.
Ahead of Monday’s ceremony, the museum asked visitors this summer to comment on what American citizenship means to them and to share comments with new citizens.
Sarafzade read out a comment left on Sept. 11 from a visitor from Boston: “Be sure to vote, be it for a president or a dog catcher.”