By Dhananji Rathnayake 

“It takes courage to get up and leave everything you know and go to another place, no matter where it is. Thank you for choosing the United States of America, believing that America is worthy of your aspirations, worthy of your dreams.” 

                                 – President Joe Biden on video 

On April 5, Lyman Moore Middle School hosted a naturalization ceremony for 55 people from 26 different countries. Toddlers waved American flags, babies slept in parents’ arms – oblivious to the importance of the occasion – the school orchestra played, and students sang, all adding a festive atmosphere to the ceremony, which was held in the school gym. 

Erica Grunnet, Acting Field Office Director of the Portland Field Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), welcomed the new citizens and wished them well on behalf of the U.S. government. Each new citizen received a Certificate of Naturalization after taking the Oath of Allegiance.  

Lyman Moore has been a naturalization site for decades, and David Hilton, who teaches grade 7 social studies, has led the effort in recent years to have USCIS continue to select the school as a host site, believing that students gain a great deal by participating. “These ceremonies are beautiful moments to share with our neighbors. … [At Lyman Moore] we strive to break artificial borders between school and community,” Hilton said. 

When Lyman Moore Principal Ben Donaldson addressed the gathering he said, “We are honored to witness the culmination of your path to U.S. citizenship. … Many of our students and their families have personal experiences with this process. Like you, each of them has a unique story and journey to share.” 

Jessica Bellucci, originally from Mexico, was visibly excited that her path to citizenship was finally complete. “This journey has been long. It has been expensive. It’s almost over! I’m so happy to become an American citizen. This is a great country to belong to!” 

Angel Thibault said, “Becoming a U.S. citizen is a great achievement that I’ve been looking forward to since I arrived in the United States. It’s been a long journey, but I’m happy for it. I will now be able to participate in the democratic system in the USA!” 

Kenga Dilamini, a teacher at Deering High School, delivered keynote remarks that emphasized the importance of finding unity, even in our current, troubled times: “I lived in South Africa for many years … one thing that I took from South Africa is the word simunye. What is simunye? Simunye simply means, ‘We are one. We are one unity.’ America is one nation of people from many backgrounds, bound together by certain principles of freedom, equality, and justice. We all share the responsibility to each other and to future Americans to preserve that freedom, equality, and justice. Your new country needs your help.” 

The countries of origin of those becoming citizens on April 5 are Argentina, Burundi, Canada, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, France, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Serbia, Somalia, Spain, Syria, and the United Kingdom.