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Students at Branford's Walsh Intermediate School were there to witness "living history" on Tuesday, Jan. 9, as 30 candidates for naturalization took the oath to become citizens of the United States of America during an official naturalization ceremony.
The candidates represented 20 different countries around the globe, and the youngest among them was 14 years old.
"Imagine, eighth graders, you going to a court and becoming a naturalized citizen at the age of 14, and the courage that it takes to do that," Branford Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez told the students, following the swearing-in.
Honorable U.S. District Court of CT Judge Joan G. Margolis administered the oath taken by the candidates. She applauded the courage of immigrants and made the point that, except for Native Americans, "...half of all [current] American citizens are [either] immigrants, children of immigrants or grandchildren of immigrants."
"Despite what some people may think, it is beyond dispute that America has become a much stronger country today because of each and every one of you," said Judge Margolis.
Erika Taylor, an officer with U.S. Citizenship and Services, Hartford Field Office, told the WIS students they were experiencing "living history" by witnessing the ceremony. The field office coordinates naturalization ceremonies in communities across the state. In 2015, Branford High School hosted a naturalization ceremony where 100 immigrants from over 45 different countries became citizens.
Hernandez shared with the newly sworn-in citizens that his parents immigrated to America with his older brother, who took the oath of citizenship at age 16.
"I can honestly tell you, you have no idea how profoundly you have impacted your future generations, your legacy," said Hernandez.
He said he'd recently shared that sentiment with his 93-year-old father by telling him, "... 'you gave me two gifts; the gift of life and the gift of freedom,'" said Hernadez, adding for those in the audience, "...and that, I can tell you, is something that I cherish very, very deeply."
Hernandez also encouraged the WIS students to be remain mindful and welcoming to all, saying, "...when you look to your left and right, know that somebody's parents or grandparents or great grandparents started just like this; and that we should welcome you always with open arms and open hearts."
He also reminded the students that one of the freedoms enjoyed by American citizens is a public school education.
"Public schools are a great equalizer," said Hernandez, adding that, in of in some countries represented at the January 9 ceremony, "...you might not be able to go to school -- you might not be of the chosen class, you might not be of the right sex...in Branford, Connecticut, we are blessed that all of our children go to school; and that we have a diverse population that we value, cherish and embrace."
View the ceremony's livestream video at www.branford.k12.ct.us
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