By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 5, 2016
ATLANTA—Jan. 26, 2016 is a day that teacher Amelia Taruc will remember for a lifetime.
Taruc, a teacher at St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville, became an American citizen during a naturalization ceremony that Friday morning at the Atlanta field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Accompanied by 85 flag-waving fourth- and fifth-grade students, Taruc took the oath of allegiance to the United States. Born in the Philippines, Taruc became an American along with 73 other immigrants who had completed the naturalization process. They represented 39 countries of origin from Antigua to Iraq, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.
“It’s been a family dream. We’ve been working for this together,” said Taruc. “It’s so amazing.”
Taruc, who attended the Jesuit university Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines for undergraduate studies, came to the United States in 2010. Her parents live in California and are also in the process of becoming citizens. One of Taruc’s brothers is already an American citizen.
Although her own family could not be present for her ceremony, her father proudly wore a patriotic shirt to work that day to celebrate his daughter’s citizenship.
Having an “army” of her St. John the Evangelist students and other teachers attend the ceremony made the occasion even more special for Taruc.
“I’m beyond grateful to have found this family here in Atlanta. It’s so meaningful,” she said.
The entire school community has prayed for her, and as the date for the naturalization interview grew closer the children would ask Taruc if she was prepared.
On the bus ride to the ceremony, the students sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Taruc teaches as part of the Alliance for Catholic Education program of the University of Notre Dame. It trains and places teachers in underserved Catholic schools while they, in turn, earn a master’s degree. Taruc lives in community with other ACE teachers and they attend Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta.
ACE teacher Kevin Schafer, serving at St. John Neumann Regional School in Lilburn, attended his friend’s ceremony.
“We’ve all been super proud of her. I had all my kids take the citizenship test,” said Schafer.
Although naturalization was a long process, Taruc said it was mostly “smooth sailing.”
Taruc acknowledged her parents’ hard work in providing the opportunity for her to come to this country and said she will always appreciate her Filipino roots and values.
“One of the most beautiful things about America is its diversity and how it’s just the place where people from all over come and meet and are part of the United States of America,” she said.
Students sing, address new citizens
Naturalization is the most common path to U.S. citizenship. Green card holders (permanent residents) of at least five years can apply for naturalization if they meet several eligibility requirements such as being 18 or older, being able to read, write and speak English and pass a civics test, being a person of good moral character as well as feeling “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.”
After completion of her naturalization interview, she asked the immigration officer about the possibility of bringing St. John the Evangelist students to the oath ceremony for a close-up lesson.
“They have been so accommodating throughout,” said Taruc.
The staff of the field office of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services held a question-and-answer session about citizenship with the students and invited members of the school chorus to sing the national anthem.
St. John the Evangelist students also led the Pledge of Allegiance. The field office staff gave the students American flags and arranged for snacks before returning to school.
Students Raphael Grand’Pierre, Diego Martinez and Matthew Goins, whose families originate in Haiti, Nicaragua and the Philippines, respectively, each prepared a report about those countries for the new citizens and their families.
Raphael talked about his roots.
“As a Haitian-American, I feel blessed to be in America. Growing up in a Haitian family is fun.”
The youngster also talked about dreams to the immigrants-turned-citizens.
“They can come true if you are willing to work hard,” he said.
Brett Rinehart, field office director, administered the oath of allegiance.
Afterward, Rinehart congratulated the new citizens, telling them they are now as fully American as the forefathers.
“This is that moment your journey has brought you to,” he said.
Copies of the certificates of citizenship are sent to the National Archives.
“It will be there forever,” added Rinehart. “I think you’ve joined the winning team.”
Rinehart said one of the most important rights as citizens is to vote and encouraged the new citizens to register to be able to exercise that right.
Student Rebecca Dunaway said she thought it would be difficult to be patient while waiting for citizenship.
“She is extremely caring. She is nice no matter what,” said Dunaway about her teacher. “She does so much for us.”
Her classmate, Christian Sharp, recognized that learning the English language is probably one of the most difficult aspects of naturalization.
Sharp also offered words of congratulations to his teacher.
“I’m just extremely proud. It warms my heart,” he said.
“You know what fills my heart? You’re all here,” said Taruc.