One by one, men and women born outside the United States, from Brazil to the United Kingdom, raised their right hands, repeated their pledges, and were sworn in as American citizens Tuesday morning at Montclair State University's University Hall.
If the occasion was special for the newest Americans in the room, it was also historic for more than 100 students from Montclair's Bradford and Northeast elementary schools. Unlike other class trips that speak to different points along the country's timeline, these students witnessed a special moment live and in living color.
“Not everyone becomes American,” said Helena Balch, a 5th grader at Northeast. “It's special to become an American.”
Added Katelyn Forman, a 5th grader at Bradford: “It was a wonderful way to see how people come to the U.S.”
Before the 52 new citizens took their Oath of Allegiance, they each rose as their previous home countries were called. They remained standing, some smiling as they held little American flags in their right hands. They recited a series of pledges that culminated each of their respective roads to U.S. citizenship.
“It was really cool when they all got sworn in,” said Leo Derosby, a 5th grader at Bradford. “That was the best part.”
After an extended round of applause, many of the 52 new Americans kept their flags raised as they recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Following a performance of the National Anthem by Montclair State's Chamber Choir, a pre-recorded message from President Barack Obama told them: “This is officially your country." He reminded them: “Always remember that no dream in America is impossible.”
Paul J. Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey who has a son and daughter attending Northeast, reminded the students that 27,000 were undergoing the same ceremony Tuesday in all sorts of places, everywhere from national parks to a Navy ship. Before telling them “this might be the best show and share you get all year,” the attorney encouraged the children to embrace their history and their patriotism.
“These 52 people and maybe some of your parents … they picked America,” Fishman said. “They didn't have to come here. They chose to come here.”
This was not lost on the students from Bradford and Northeast, who got out of the classroom Tuesday morning and witnessed history.
“It was exciting,” said Nick Kirkman, a 5th grader at Northeast. “I think it was really cool to see people from all different counties.”
After Tuesday morning, those 52 people are now all Americans.