February 20, 2010
Ceremony welcomes nation’s newest citizens
37 people from 17 nations take oath of citizenship in County Courthouse
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
David Howe looks at his certificate of naturalization with his daughter, Quinn, during a naturalization ceremony Friday at the Cortland County Courthouse. With them is Howe’s wife, Allison, and daughter Kiely.
Being an American means taking part in freedom at the local level as well as the national level, 37 people from 17 nations were told Friday after they took the oath of citizenship.
A series of speakers congratulated the men and women on finishing the instruction necessary for citizenship and then coming to the Cortland County Courthouse to be given the oath by state Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey.
The new citizens would be able to voice their opinions, pursue their dreams and help their government make decisions, said keynote speaker Dr. Christopher Moheimani, a Cortland surgeon who was born in England but grew up in New Jersey, finally taking the oath in his 40s.
“Sitting there before taking my oath four years ago, I began to appreciate anew that this was a land of opportunity,” Moheimani said, adding that the United States allows a person to find his or her true self and to take responsibility for society.
Ghassan Wehbe, a Lebanese native who became a U.S. citizen 14 years ago and is now a Truxton town councilman, urged the new citizens to vote because their decisions could affect local government.
“In Truxton, we rallied to keep our elementary school open and our senior citizen center open,” Wehbe said, referring to recent discussions in the Homer school district about the fate of Hartnett Elementary School and a move to cut days of operation for senior centers.
“The second most important piece of paper you will receive today is the voter registration card, 8 1/2 inches by 5 inches,” Wehbe said. “In two town elections, we had tie votes for town council seats. That vote makes a difference.”
Cuyler and Truxton town elections last fall produced two tie votes.
Wehbe said the day was one to remember, but just the start of a journey, not the end.
Cortland County Legislature Chairman Jack Williams told the new citizens to work together and participate in government, adding to the nation’s strengths.
Williams (D-8th Ward) said his grandfather emigrated from Wales and became a U.S. citizen over a century ago, so he understood how much the day meant.
The new citizens smiled to themselves or to relatives and friends, after taking the oath from County Clerk Elizabeth Larkin. They received their certificates from Rumsey, Larkin, Moheimani and Jeffery Belling, an official from the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in Buffalo.
Some of the new citizens had lived in the United States for years before deciding to become Americans.
“We finally got around to it,” said retired Cornell University physics professor Richard Tallman, 75, referring to himself and his wife, Myrna, who also took the oath. They were Canadian citizens, one of several at Friday’s ceremony.
“It felt like the right thing to do,” said Brad Rickard, a native Canadian who teaches applied economics and management at Cornell. His Canadian-born wife, Christa Mugford, a Cornell Cooperative Extension staff member in Tioga County, also took the oath.
Another Canadian, Davie Howe of Groton, had to leave for Montreal after the ceremony with his wife, Allison, and their two young daughters. He said that, like Rickard and Mugford, having children made him realize he should be an American as they were.
“I might like to get involved in school board or local government, so I needed to make a serious commitment,” said Howe, a Cornell administrator. “And this way, no matter who wins the Olympic gold medal in hockey, the U.S. or Canada, I win.”
Howe, 41, said he was worried about re-entering New York state after his visit to Montreal, because his green card was taken before the ceremony and he does not yet have a U.S. passport.
“I have all the paperwork with me, so hopefully it will work,” he said.
Rumsey urged the new citizens to remember their native countries and the family they might have there, as America is a nation that values all cultures. He said each of the 37 people brings a special talent to citizenship.
“America is a young nation, and we have made our share of mistakes and will no doubt make more,” Rumsey said, “but we are a country of law.”
Rumsey said beforehand that he was disappointed in one thing: structural problems with seats in the courtroom’s balcony meant the seating was unsafe, so there were no high school students from Cortland and Homer to watch the ceremony from there.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe