“One of the unofficial mottos of South Orange is that everybody belongs here” said Stephen Schnall, South Orange Village Trustee. Those words rang true at the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Naturalization Ceremony on Wednesday, June 6th at SOPAC. A Naturalization Ceremony is an event that grants immigrants from other countries U.S. citizenship they have earned. The program started off with South Orange Middle School 8th grader, Vivienne Frederick, beautifully singing the national anthem. The eager 25 candidates from 18 different countries from around the world who gained their U.S. citizenship that morning were excited to be joining the country. During the ceremony, the countries the candidates are originally from were called and one by one they stood up and acknowledged their native countries including Jamaica, Haiti, Burma, Germany, Brazil and many more. Families of the applicants who were there in support took pictures of their loves ones holding their certificates of citizenship. Speakers including South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, Trustee Stephen Schnall, Former President of Essex County College Dr. Zachary A. Yamba, and the chair of the Community Relations Committee in South Orange Janis Zaveri spoke about how excited and proud they were of the candidates. Some other important attendees were Trustee Karen Hilton, Trustee Deborah Davis Ford, Board of Education member Johanna Wright, and Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner who helped organize the event. The speakers at the ceremony spoke words of wisdom to the candidates during their speeches. During Zaveri’s speech, she said “You’ve brought your enthusiasm and your passion. We need it. We want it. We welcome it.” She also spoke about the “three R’s” in her speech: resilience, resourcefulness, and when needed, resistance. Zaveri mentioned that the candidates have learned the “three R’s” throughout their journey and expressed how proud she was of them for their strength. Another speaker, Dr. Yamba, told the audience “It’s the land of opportunity, but YOU make that happen.” All the speakers were so proud of the journey the applicants took and encouraged them to continue on that path. Village President Sheena Collum acknowledged in her speech that “South Orange and our family would welcome you with open arms.” Overall, the feeling of joy and love in the air was overwhelming and reminded us all what South Orange is really about.
Being the first Naturalization Ceremony hosted in South Orange, community members who attended in order to encourage and support the candidates were happy to learn that their town was taking part in such a joyous occasion. Students from South Orange Middle School’s choir led by their teacher, Jacob Ezzo, even took time from their summer vacation to sing American the Beautiful in support of the event. They mentioned how happy and honored they were to be asked to perform. John Gregory, a social studies teacher at SOMS who was there supporting the kids and applicants called it “a thrill of a lifetime”. Another group of students that was asked to be a part of the event was the South Orange and Maplewood Boy Scout troop 60 who recited the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony. Everyone was so excited to be part of such an incredible moment. This truly was a memorable event that brought joy and happiness to everyone that attended. It showed the values that South Orange continues to uphold such as love and kindness to others. Most of all, it demonstrated South Orange’s value of acceptance towards everyone no matter who they are or where they are from.