BC Freshman Happy to Be Among Newest US Citizens
In a ceremony replete with civic rituals, historical meaning and profound emotions, Boston College — and the United States — officially welcomed 94 new American citizens who took the oath of allegiance on March 21 in Robsham Theater.
Hosted by BC and the Graduate School of Social Work as part of the University’s Sesquicentennial celebration, the hour-long naturalization ceremony gathered immigrants from 42 countries — including Albania, China, Congo-Kinasha, the Dominican Republic, France, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, Turkey and Vietnam — who were ready to take the final step toward citizenship.
Although held under the authority of US Citizen and Immigration Services, the March 21 event had a strong Boston College presence — not least in the person of freshman Chuda Rijal, who spent most of his childhood in a Nepal refugee camp before his family immigrated to the US five years ago. Administering the oath to Rijal and the other 93 citizens-to-be was 1969 alumnus US District Court Justice George A. O’Toole Jr.
In addition, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, made brief remarks to the audience, which included family and friends of the immigrants, as did GSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi — who noted that he and his wife and daughter had been naturalized three years ago — and Westy Egmont, director of GSSW’s Immigrant Integration Lab.
“Those individuals who desire to be citizens of the US are animated and sustained by the promise of a better life,” said Fr. Leahy. “We participate with you, because this is an opportunity for you, and for us, to build a better nation — and a better world.”
Members of the BC community also contributed to the rites and pageantry of the ceremony: Vice President and University Secretary Terrence Devino, SJ, gave the invocation; Undergraduate Government of Boston College Vice President Kudzai Taziva ’13 (whose family was from Zimbabwe) led the Pledge of Allegiance; members of BC bOp! sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well as other appropriate musical selections; and the BC ROTC Color Guard presented the American and Commonwealth of Massachusetts flags.
Speakers touched on Boston College’s legacy as a school founded to serve the children of Boston’s immigrant populations, and its continuing interest in social and humanitarian issues related to voluntary and forced migration — the subject of a two-day symposium at BC that kicked off in Robsham later in the day [see separate story on page 1].
As the ceremony progressed, Rijal — who, along with the other immigrants taking the oath, held a small American flag — occasionally turned around to smile at his mother Devi, father Dilli and younger brother Yogesh seated farther back in the theater. Interviewed earlier, Rijal talked about his family’s resettlement in Concord, NH, after leaving Nepal, where his parents had gone after being forced to flee their native Bhutan due to sectarian tensions.
“My parents didn’t speak much English, so I had to take on adult responsibility,” recalled Rijal, who was 14 when his family arrived in New Hampshire (he prefers not to discuss the years in the refugee camp). “Fortunately, we had a neighbor friend who helped us a lot with the acclimation, as did Lutheran Social Services. It was a very welcoming community.”
His parents worked an assortment of jobs to support the household, Rijal said, and did everything they could to help him and Yogesh adapt to life in the US. And there was one thing above all they emphasized, he said.
“Education. My parents value education very much, because they didn’t have as much as they would’ve liked. So they made sure we worked hard at our studies.”
Rijal picked up English quickly, enough to test out of the high school ESL classes, and made the honor roll regularly; he later became the first Bhutanese refugee to be inducted into the National Honor Society. There was no question of him going to college, and Boston College appealed to him immediately.
"I liked the campus, the academics seemed challenging, and on the whole it was a welcoming place,” said Rijal, who also was swayed by the fact that an older school friend was attending.
“It’s going very well,” he said of his BC experience: He’s active in the Southeast Asian Student Association and FACES (a student organization exploring issues of race, identity and systems of power and privilege), and is likely to major in biochemistry.
Later in the March 21 ceremony, after administering the oath, O’Toole invited the new citizens to stand as he recited their respective countries of origin. Some stood and sat down quickly, waving modestly to the applauding audience; others took time to revel in the moment. When he heard “Bhutan,” Rijal stood, looked back at his family again and gave one of his ever-present smiles.
And then the ceremony was over, and the new citizens exited the auditorium to celebrate with friends and family members in the Robsham lobby. But Chris Mulumba, who has been in the US since 2003 after fleeing turmoil in his native Congo-Kinasha, went straight to a voter registration table that had been temporarily set up.
"It is a great honor to be a US citizen,” said Mulumba, a registered nurse, when he was finished registering. “Being able to vote is very important to me. I look forward to my first election.”
Rijal, meanwhile, was busy having his picture taken with his family and accepting congratulations from various well-wishers, some of whom he hardly knew.
How did he feel, now that it was all over — at least his journey to obtaining citizenship? Once again, a smile spread over his face, and he patted his chest lightly.
“Happy,” he said. “Very, very happy.”