Homecoming at Hoover High School is a couple of weeks away and graduation won’t happen until next spring, but an event held at the school Friday morning smacked a little bit of both.
One hundred and ninety-seven new American citizens from 56 countries were naturalized, A-V, clear from Algeria and Armenia and Argentina and Australia all the way to Vietnam and Venezuela.
There was an active U.S. military member.
There were twin sisters from Colombia.
There were DMPS parents who prepped for their citizenship exams with help from the district’s corps of Bilingual Family Liaisons (BFLs). Aung Han, in particular, worked with many of them. He’s worked for the district for seven years and was naturalized in 2015 after coming to America from Burma in 2007.
The citizenship parents achieve for themselves accrues to their children under the age of 18.
(Christin Tombe, for instance, who came here from South Sudan, has four children at three DMPS schools: Hoover, Meredith Middle School and Moore Elementary. When you factor in the derivative citizenships, the number of new DMPS Americans was substantially more by lunchtime Friday than it was at breakfast.)
Finally, there was Hser Del Moo, an 18-year-old senior at Hoover.
Hser’s mother was naturalized last March, so Hser’s four younger sisters (one at North High, two at Harding Middle School and one at Oak Park Elementary) are all eligible for derivative citizenship. But Hser was not because she is 18. She had to earn her own.
“I took my exam on Tuesday,” she said. “Monday night my mother was helping me study. I was worried.”
She needn’t have been. She passed with flying colors, clearing the way for her to miss her orchestra and choir classes Friday morning to go get her citizenship in the auditorium instead.
“I was born in Thailand in a (refugee) camp,” said Hser Friday morning. “We came to America when I was six. I’m proud that I passed my test and my parents are proud, too.”
Naturalizations are coordinated under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, in the office of United States Citizenship & Immigration Services. USCIS holds ceremonies regularly throughout the year, usually in much smaller batches of candidates than this one.
“Our fiscal year ends at the end of September,” said Supervisory Immigration Services Officer Carrie Harmsen. “That’s why we have so many candidates today. This is our last ceremony of the year. Our numbers have been up in general this year.”
The hallway outside of the Hoover auditorium resembled an airline terminal first thing in the morning. The candidates queued up to check-in and get their seating assignments. They were so close, and yet so far, it must have seemed from the back of the line.
DMPS connections were everywhere.
Jille Irkoze is a native of Burundi who graduated from Hoover in 2017. He was so excited to be back.
Chuong Vo was born in Vietnam. He graduated from Roosevelt in 2016 and began an internship in the DMPS Business & Finance Department before he graduated. Now he works fulltime for the district and six of his colleagues took a timeout Friday morning to come and cheer for him.
One of the district coordinators for the event was Social Studies Curriculum Director Mckenzie Kennedy. In addition to the logistics she helped arrange in advance, she served as an usher during the ceremony, even taking pictures for some of the new Americans. She also discovered some personal connections she wasn’t aware of beforehand.
“Three of my former students from Lincoln High became citizens today,” she said afterward. “How cool is that?”
It was pretty cool. So cool, that an encore would seem in order.
“Yes, I think so,” said Pablo Ortega, the district’s ELL (English Language Learner) Director. “I think it is the kind of thing that makes sense for us to continue.”
Because every day at school is a collective exercise in citizenship. Given that, plus the global scope of this particular crossroads district where students come from almost literally everywhere, you might conclude that Friday morning’s ceremony at Hoover, an IB World School after all, was overdue. Maybe something like it can become as annual as homecoming and graduation. Maybe each high school can take a turn.
Meanwhile, back to Hser’s senior year at Hoover. By virtue of her American citizenship, she now becomes eligible not only to vote, but for a wide assortment of federal and private financial aid that makes her formerly vague notions of going on to college suddenly very realistic.
Actually, what happened Friday at Hoover wasn’t sudden at all. But it’s a good thing, x 197, that it happened.