Yesterday I had the honor of witnessing eighty people become American citizens. My school's fifth grade classes were able to have a tour of the Federal Court House and witness a naturalization ceremony because the judge is the grandfather of one of our students. Another one of our students saw his mother become a citizen as well. I found myself really holding back tears at the realization of what they were doing. All of the prospective citizens stand, hold up their hand, an oath is read and they say "I do." That's it - although I know there is much preparation ahead of time. The judge then explained why he disliked the oath because it had archaic words in it such as abjure. He made them all stand as he read an oath that he wrote and they said I do again. Some of them looked confused, but I appreciated his convictions. He gave a speech on why we pay taxes and how important their vote is. Then he asked them to never forget their homeland and their heritage and to share it with their children and grandchildren. He felt strongly about this because his own painful Russian Jewish family history had not been spoken of and he did not know where his people came from. I thought that was a beautiful sentiment as well.
Before all of that they students had two scared straight lectures primarily about drugs. They met with a federal marshall and one student was handcuffed and shackled for effect. The marshall emphasized how not fun it was to be in prison. We actually saw the prison and one orange-suited man in shackles being led from a cell in the elevator to his permanant cell a few yards away. Many of the student questions were about people escaping -but all they heard was - no one escapes here.
We sat in the judges court room and heard another lecture on the danger of drug involvement. This judge says he now convicts people to life in prison for multiple drug convictions. We saw the judges chambers - about the same square footage as my entire house - and his view of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. If that was my office I'd spend all day staring out the window I'm sure.
The Federal Court House in Cleveland is only a few years old and a spectacular place to visit. The bus ride with 50 fifth graders was pure hell - but it was worth it.