Saint Louis University celebrated with 798 individuals from more than 100 different countries as they became American citizens at a "mega" Naturalization Ceremony on Friday, Sept. 8, at Chaifetz Arena, in front of their friends and families.
The ceremony was put on by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), with assistance from SLU and the School of Law.
University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., gave the opening address. He reminded the new citizens that in becoming Americans, they do not abandon their individual histories and respective cultures, and that those unique stories become part of the American story.
“It is a cause for a joyous celebration," Pestello said. "Our united nature is not achieved because we are all the same. We are united in light of our differences, not despite them. You are welcome here — in this arena, in this city, and in this country."
School of Law dean William P. Johnson, J.D., gave the keynote address, commenting on the radical ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence and how those ideas contributed to the development of international human rights and international law intended to protect the rights of vulnerable individuals.
"America is not perfect; no country is perfect. Any proclamation of greatness should be made with a sense of humility and a mindfulness of mistakes we have made," Johnson said. "And yet, America is great. It is a great nation because of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a great nation because it is the land of opportunity. America is great because of its creation of and commitment to the rule of law and fundamental principles of civil rights and liberal democracy.
"But America’s greatness is more complex than that, because America’s greatness is dynamic, created by the ongoing influx of so many cultural traditions," Johnson continued. "America continues to be great because of you and the new Americans who came before you."
The Hon. Shirley P. Mensah, U.S. magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, then administered the Oath of Allegiance, which was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the presentation of certificates of citizenship by USCIS.
LeAnn Upton, office assistant in the School of Law’s Legal Clinics, led the Law School Choir in renditions of “My Country ‘tis of Thee” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and nearly 20 other law students served as greeters and ushers led by clinic instructor John Ammann, J.D., McDonnell Professor of Justice in American Society.
“I have loved living in the U.S. and am excited to be able to make my citizenship official,” said Enrica Ferrario, a retail sales manager from Bergamo, Italy, and one of the new American citizens naturalized. “It was a really moving ceremony, and it felt very special to be there with so many others becoming naturalized.
“For many years I had debated about becoming a U.S. citizen, and in many ways I felt like I already was one after living here for more than 30 years,” Ferrario continued. “However, I could not vote during elections, and I really wanted my voice to be heard. I’m looking forward to casting my first ballot in an upcoming election!”
Ferrario met her husband Scott, a St. Louis native, while he was in the U.S. Navy stationed in Sardenia, Italy, and they relocated after he completed his tour. Their daughter, Camilla Ferrario Hall, graduated from SLU in 2006 (A&S) before working for several years in the John Cook School of Business.
Another SLU connection: vice president, CIO and chief innovation officer David Hakanson's wife Luciene, a native of Brazil, was also among those naturalized.
Hosting naturalization ceremonies every semester has become a long-standing tradition at Saint Louis University School of Law. The next one, which will be smaller in scope, will take place at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at Scott Hall, and is open to the public.