As they lined up along a staircase to wait to perform at a recent naturalization ceremony, East Oakview Elementary choristers seemed to truly understand that the U.S. is full of those who weren’t born in this country.
“My grandpa was born in Greece,” Andre Williams offered.
“My mother came from Dubai,” said Page Robinson.
Added Zack Johnson, “I know someone who just became a citizen yesterday who is from Russia.”
And so it was that a group of more than 20 fourth-graders heralded through song the addition of 73 new U.S. citizens from 30 countries at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids. They welcomed the newcomers with a jaunty version of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” as well as the solemn “God Bless America.”
It was a poignant event for choir director Lou Sinigos, a native of Greece who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1964 at age 3.
“I barely remember it, but I do remember carrying a flag and walking down a hallway in this big old (former City Hall) building,” Sinigos recalled. “I remember it was a little scary somehow, but that it felt like something very special.”
As the new U.S. citizens made their way across the stage to shake Judge Scott W. Dales’ hand, Sinigos said he was “having trouble keeping it together.”
“I’m so thankful we can sing for them, on a day they will remember for the rest of their lives,” he said. “And I’m so excited to have the kids see this.
“Someday they will probably reflect on this and see how important it is, how blessed we are that we are citizens of the United States, no matter what the political climate.”