BBHHS hosts naturalization ceremony

by John Benson

After receiving a suggestion from a peer, Breckville-Broadview Heights High School history teacher Sean P. Brennan, also the Youth in Government advisor, earlier this year had an idea to bring a naturalization ceremony to the high school.

Once Brennan received the green light from BBHHS Principal Steven Ast, Brennan reached out to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which he said without hesitation was onboard.

“This kind of came together quick,” Brennan said. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen this year, but because everybody was so onboard with it, sure enough, we did.”

Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School student Lana Kanawati, whose family immigrated from Syria, speaks during the ceremony. Photo by J. Kananian

During a naturalization ceremony, participants take an oath to complete the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held a ceremony at BBHHS on April 3, with all juniors and seniors in attendance.

“Typically, you don’t get too much of a positive reaction from students after an assembly, but when I’m walking through the hallways, students just keep expressing how much they appreciated it and how moved they were by 31 new citizens taking the oath of allegiance,” Brennan said.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko presided over the ceremony, including swearing in the new citizens. Also present were County Councilman Jack Schron, Brecksville-Broadview Heights Board of Education members Fred Pedersen and Mike Zieglar, Superintendent Joelle Magyar and Ast.

Hami (l) and Pompha Ponsel of Bhutan prepare to be sworn in. Photo by J. Kananian

BBHHS Chinese teacher Jane-Na Chang spoke about how she gained citizenship after immigrating from Taiwan, while junior Lana Kanawati gave a moving speech about her family, who moved from Syria in hopes of achieving the American dream.

Among the new citizens was one surprise for BBHHS staff and administration.

“As were looking at the crowd, we saw Dhruv Sengar, a 2009 Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School graduate, who had been working for several years to gain his citizenship,” Brennan said. “I actually had him as a student. It was very exciting.”  

Considering the immigration debate remains a hotbed of political discussion, Brennan said the timing of the BBHHS naturalization ceremony was apropos.

“That was one of the points,” Brennan said. “Immigrants are kind of getting a bad name these days in the media. I thought this would be a great reminder for all of our students and adults in the room to see that not everybody who comes here does it illegally.

“There are millions of people who come here every year and go the legal route, just like most of our families did.”

Going forward, Brennan said the hope is for BBHHS to host an annual naturalization ceremony.

“After the ceremony was over, the superintendent, who was very moved, said we were going to do this every year,” Brennan said.

Magyar said, “It was such a moving experience for all that were involved. I can’t think of a better way to bring a real-life experience to our students that not only emphasizes the core of our being as a country, but drives home the beauty of our diversity.”

Featured image photo caption: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held a naturalization ceremony at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School on April 3, where juniors and seniors were able to watch a group of immigrants take the oath to become citizens of the United States. Photo by J. Kananian