Music teacher Mariana Y Steffan of St. Kateri Catholic Academy learned a new tune on Thursday — the sweet melody of freedom.
Ms. Steffan was one of 26 people who took the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony at Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School. The event provided hundreds of Kateri students a chance to observe and participate in the process.
Magistrate Judge James R. Knepp, who presides over the ceremony, emphasized to the students the importance of what they were witnessing.
“They’ve all sacrificed so much and overcome so many challenges to get to this point,” Judge Knepp told students in the school’s auditorium. “I hope you appreciate how special this is for all of us here.”
Ms. Steffan, 50, of Russia, was keynote speaker. She teaches elementary and middle school music classes at the academy. She arrived in the United States in 1996.
“If 20 years ago someone told me that I would be living in the U.S.A., in the state of Ohio, teaching American children music, I would probably laugh first and then wonder why in the world would I want to leave Russia,” Ms. Steffan said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Cardinal Stritch H.S. hosts naturalization ceremony
But, economic and political turmoil in her native country prompted her to join her sister, who was an exchange student in the United States at the time.
The lesson she learned is to appreciate the people in your life and the opportunities that come your way, she told the audience.
“Embrace the opportunity,” she said. “Embrace the challenge. Embrace the change. Because at the end of the day, it is up to us if our journey will be exciting, meaningful, and filled with special moments, like this one.”
Students and school officials did all they could to make the event special.
The gym, where the ceremony was held, was decorated with bright streamers and balloons.
Middle school students entered the gym carrying large, full-colored cardboard flag replicas of each new citizen’s home country. Elementary students carried and waved small U.S. flags. The high school chorale sang the national anthem.
Students applauded energetically as each new citizen was introduced and cheered wildly when their beloved music teacher, Ms. Steffan, was introduced.
Third grader Melanie Tran, who led the school and the new citizens in a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, said the event made her feel happy.
“She’s a very good singer, and she hugs us and everything,” 9-year-old Melanie said. “She’s a nice teacher.”
Peter Antonius Leenan, 46, of the Netherlands, said he was overjoyed at the reception the new citizens received.
“I think it was pretty neat,” said Mr. Leenan, who noted that he came to the United States 10 years ago in search of “more freedom.”
“Ten years ago I didn’t think it would be possible,” he said, glancing at the citizenship document that he clutched in his right hand. “This is nice.”
The Rev. Eric Schild, president of Cardinal Stritch, said he hopes his students left the event with a deeper appreciation of what many people often take for granted: the freedom and rights they enjoy as Americans.
“I hope they have a better appreciation of what it’s like to be a citizen,” Father Schild said.
“It can often be lost to those born into it.”
The new Americans and their native countries are:
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Mubera Bunar
Cambodia: Sreyroth Nopsarin Weaner
Cameroon: Misper Eneke Bisong Etando
Canada: Mohammed Thareq Yahya
Egypt: Hoda Yousef Gad
Ghana: Anita Adjoa Akomeah Ofori
India: Swarnalatha Pangulur
Lebanon: Mohamad Abdou Abdou, Abbas Toufic Awada, Lemira Aida Osmen Dandan, Chawki Mohamed Houmani, Mouhamad Ali Neeme, and Rola Mohamad Smaili
Mexico: Cresencio Dominguez, Francisco José Ollervides, Lorena Patricia Leal Rodríguez, and Rodolfo Martínez Treviño
Moldova: Alexandru Ceres
Netherlands: Peter Antonius Leenen
People’s Republic of China: Zhen Li, Chu Qin Zhang, and Jian Zheng
Russia: Mariana Y Steffan
Sudan: Mohamed Fikri Mohamed Osman
United Kingdom: Ergys Zeka
Vietnam: Thu Nga Thi Nguyen
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.