Smiles & flags mark Ripton ceremony where 15 new Americans take the oath

RIPTON — Mary Magot began a journey 16 years ago. It started in the African nation of Sudan, led her through a civil war, a temporarily fractured household and immense hardship.

Her journey — and those of 14 other people from all corners of the globe — ended on Thursday with a meandering car ride up a serpentine Route 125, near the Robert Frost Trail, to the Ripton Elementary School, where they became citizens of the United States in a ceremony presided over by a federal judge.

As in the well-known Frost poem, each of the new citizens had faced a choice of taking one of two divergent paths — one in their native country and another in America. And, in this case, each had taken the road most traveled by immigrants seeking a chance at a better life.

“I’ve wanted to be an American citizen because I love American people and America,” Magot said with a smile as she clutched a small U.S. flag and her citizenship certificate after the ceremony.

She and her 14 companions were treated to a great welcome by federal immigration officials, Ripton Elementary students and the singing group Maiden Vermont, which serenaded them with patriotic tunes.

Friends and relatives captured the moments on cell phones and cameras.

For an hour, this was pure Americana; no specific references to border walls, no-fly lists and immigration bans. Speakers quoted past presidents Barack Obama and Calvin Coolidge and steered clear of referencing the current administration.

Among the speakers was Addison Central School District Superintendent Peter Burrows. Thursday’s ceremony was a real-life metaphor for the International Baccalaureate program to which the ACSD is transitioning. A celebration of diversity and unity aimed at making students more complete citizens of the world.

Burrows alluded to the current political polarization in the country and urged the new Americans to be part of the solution.

“You bring energy and a commitment that our country greatly needs right now,” Burrows told the group. “We are living in a time where we need to work harder to understand differences. We need to work harder to build dialogue, to find ways to increase our empathy and take care of each other. We look at the media, and we know that something is amiss right now. You, and other immigrants, can be leaders in helping build towards a democratic ideal that brings us towards greater international mindedness and inclusivity.”

RIPTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL students sit in the school gym last Thursday to witness a naturalization ceremony that swore in 15 people as new U.S. citizens. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Colleen A. Brown led the 15 new citizens through their oath of allegiance. But first, she offered her thoughts on the step they were about to take and the responsibilities of being American.

She likened the U.S. to a “collage.”

“Just as the collage retains the unique texture, color, shape and size of each piece, the richness of the U.S. lies in its ability to be simultaneously a single country and also a collection of many distinct traditions, histories and cultures,” Brown told them. “The magic of both the collage and this country is that when we put all the pieces together, the whole is much more that the sum of its parts.”

She noted it can be a challenge at times to make sure all the pieces fit into the collage.

“Likewise, it is not always easy to accept others who are different or those who do not agree with us,” Brown said. “This country was formed, however, in large measure by people who did not feel accepted or free to speak their minds in their own countries.

“We must be able to tolerate, and appreciate, views with which we may disagree vehemently,” she added. “If we are to have our right to free expression, others must, as well.”

Brown acknowledged instances of discrimination exhibited by Americans in the past, citing specifically treatment of Native Americans and prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But she added the nation and its people have not hidden such injustices and have tried to learn from them.

“Rather, we acknowledge these mistakes and are addressing them through open, public discourse,” Brown said. “By living out democracy this way, we can find appropriate ways to deal with wrongs and learn from them.”

She urged the new citizens to become involved in their adopted nation.

“What I want to emphasize is that democracy breaks down when people abandon the process and leave it to the few to make the decisions that affect us all,” Brown told them. “Democracy is often slow and is sometimes a frustrating way to make decisions. But, it is the best way.”

Brown also encouraged the newly minted Americans to share the culture and heritage they are bringing with them.

“I urge you to develop and share your vision for this country with your new neighbors, and teach them about your native dishes, your special way of doing things,” she said. “That is important; it will enrich all of us and help us to build upon the diversity we need for this country to continue to flourish.”

Brown welcomed the group to their adopted state by sharing some quotes from President Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge once referred to his fellow Vermonters as “a race of pioneers who almost impoverished themselves for love of others. If ever the spirit of liberty should vanish from the rest of the union, it could be restored by the generous share held by the people in this brave little state of Vermont.”

Thursday’s ceremony made a big impression on Moni Kumar Gurung, who left his native Bhutan six years ago through a refugee program to seek a better life in the U.S.

“I’m very happy to become a citizen and to be here,” he said simply, trying to find the right words. “I’m so happy.”

For her part, Magot said she has seen a lot of changes since arriving in the U.S. seven years ago. Her husband had preceded her by nine years in order to earn the money to make a home for the rest of the family.

Her former homeland is now known as South Sudan, following a successful bid for independence in 2011.

She and her husband recently welcomed a new daughter, who will be a born-and-raised Vermonter.

Magot is now ready to begin a new chapter — as a U.S. citizen.

She’s glad she was able to share the moment with 14 other people.

“I’m so happy to see so many different countries,” she said of those with whom she sat shoulder-to-shoulder during the ceremony. “And the school — I was very happy with the way they welcomed us.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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