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Our Quintessential American Moment
Hugh Tilson

We didn’t want to be late, so we agreed on the time of 7:30 a.m. to pick up Sam for our drive out to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Raleigh-Durham Field Office in Durham.  Actually, it wasn’t all that hard to get up at 6:30 (though it was still dark) because we were pretty excited.

We arrived shortly before eight. The parking lot was already filling up. The doors were not open yet and there was a long line waiting for entry.  It was fun to see the Durham Academy school bus parked in front.  Maybe a civics class?  We joined the line right behind a delightful Iranian man, carrying his sheaf of naturalization papers, waiting his turn with his American audience.

We were joined by a bright middle-aged Canadian man and his American wife, also carrying his sheaf of papers.  They told us the tales of over five years of struggle. They dealt with paper work, classes and exams, and more paper work, on the climb toward today’s mountain top.  Just before the security screen, there was a pre-screen by a very pleasant, smiling, soft-spoken security guard. Our Canadian friend obviously knew him from several prior security screens. The warmth between them was immediately reassuring in what must have been a stressful situation.

We were escorted toward the back to the audience section of the of the large event room; our new Iranian friend and our Canadian friend went up front and joined their fellow honorees on this important day. In the front row of the audience was the Durham Academy class, all holding small American flags and spreading joy.

Rhonda came in and worked her magic with the crowd, “Here’s what’s going to happen.”  We were going to be allowed down along the side aisles for photo ops. Otherwise we were expected to put our cell phones on silent. “What’s my name?” said Rhonda. We were expected to have been listening!  She knew how to work the crowd and command respect.

The Ceremony was about to start.

First came the National Anthem, projected on the video screen for us to sing along, then a word of introduction by the Supervisory Immigration Services Officer, Samuel Thomas, and a video reminding us of the wonderful array of faces representing our pluralistic America. None of these were as powerful or wonderful as the array which came next during the “Call of Nations” when Officer Thomas read out the names of each of the 25 or so nations being represented among our newest citizens today. “Iran” … and our line-mate stood up.  “Canada,” and our other friend joined him. “Columbia,” he said, and Mister Rodriguez stood, to the cheers of his eighth- grade class from the front row.

The inductees repeated the “Oath of Allegiance” pledging to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”. We all pledged allegiance to the flag. This was followed by an impressive video from the President, welcoming our newest citizens, and a great video of “God Bless the USA” and further reminders of our magnificently beautiful and inspiring nation.

Each of the inductees was presented his/her naturalization certificate and all were instructed to read every word to be sure it was accurate and complete (after all, these papers opened a whole new life for them!).  Officer Thomas welcomed our newest citizens. And then we did too.

What a joyful, quintessentially American moment.

Did I mention that our Canadian friend was our own Carolina Meadows head chef, Jody McLeod.  WELL DONE, Jody, and Welcome!

-Hugh Tilson

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