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Celebrating new Americans

by brockportnews
Tue, Sep 25th 2018 10:20 pm

For many students attending The College at Brockport, the Seymour College Union is the place known for food, events and information. Both commuters and students who live on campus are familiar with the layout and function of the union; each day is full of different clubs and organizations offering information, and students and faculty bustling by either for food or heading to their daily appointments. 

However, on Monday, Sept. 17 the building became not just the hub of social life for campus, but also a location which would change the legal status, and lives, of dozens of people forever.

Brockport held its annual Naturalization Ceremony, an event which commemorated  Constitution Day while also serving as the celebration and final step of the naturalization process. While Constitution day is not a federal holiday, it is observed in honor of the anniversary of when the American Constitution was signed in 1787. This observance has been in place for almost a decade, being recognized for the first time in 2005, according to constitutionfacts.com. Despite being officially recognized recently, the law celebrating Constitution Day has been long in the making. William Randolph Hearst, a well known news persona, initially introduced the idea of celebrating American citizenship in 1939. As a result of close ties with government officials as well as a popular news platform, Hearst received support and Congress passed the idea through. By 1940, the third Sunday in May was celebrated as “I am an American Day.” 

This celebration of citizenship did not originally correspond with the date the constitution was signed, though that was later changed by Olga T. Weber. Not long after “I am an American Day” was passed, Weber pushed for the date to be changed and recognized, not just by the municipalities in her area, but also Congress and the Senate. At her insistence all three passed the amendment to the original law celebrating citizenship and the newly recognized “Citizenship Day” was celebrated every year on September 17. Yet, there was still work to do concerning this event - it wasn’t yet considered a holiday. Louise Leigh, like Weber, was a woman determined to help her country recognize its history and heritage. After establishing her own non-profit organization, Leigh worked to push for recognizing Citizenship Day as an actual holiday, along with the signing of the constitution. In 2004 her efforts paid off and by 2005, both the constitution and citizenship were honored with its own respective holiday taking place on the same day.

Brockport hosted this year’s naturalization ceremony in respect of these holidays along with the help of the college’s Office of Community Development and the American Democracy Project. 

Associate Director of Community Development, Kimberly Piatt explained the cermony was unique in both its size and impact.

“The ceremony at Brockport is one of the largest ones that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) holds in Western New York,” Piatt wrote in an email. “There are usually a few hundred people in attendance. Mostly family and friends of the new citizens but each year a good number of students, faculty and staff attend as well.”

 This project was held by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities which, according to www.aascu.org, is comprised of over 250 different collegiate institutions across the country focused on “public higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.” AASCU’s goal is to expose and educate students to the ongoings of immigration laws and the effect these laws have on the country. 

Naturalization is the process of making an individual born in a different country a citizen. The term refers to the overall process of gaining citizenship, which is something Piatt said was integral to helping the college flourish and truly become more diverse.

“By holding the ceremony on Constitution Day each year, we are able to celebrate America’s constitution while embracing new citizens to the nation,” Piatt wrote. “This fosters community and connection among individuals from all over the area.”