In 2011, Dublin, Ireland, native and artist Gavin Donohoe moved to New York City with his wife, Adira Sharp. In 2018, his art was featured at The Cherry Artspace in Ithaca, and not long after, the couple called Ithaca their home.
“I love Ithaca,” Donohoe said. “It’s a beautiful place, a little bit more relaxed than New York, which was a bit too fast-paced for us, I think, and we’re having a great time.”
Though Gavin had been in the United States for quite some time, it wasn’t until Feb. 19, 2020, that he became a U.S. citizen, joining 34 other applicants from 24 countries to take the Oath of Allegiance in this year’s first naturalization ceremony.
After Tompkins County Clerk Maureen Reynolds welcomed the crowd, Tompkins County Legislator Anne Koreman spoke to attendees on the spirit of America. Though she grew up being told that America was a melting pot where people focus on similarities rather than differences, Koreman urged attendees to take a different approach.
“When I look around this room, here, I see a lot of differences,” Koreman said. “I see people from various countries, people from various races, religions, I would imagine sexual orientation, definitely ages, sexual identities, and also political beliefs. So, rather than America, to me, being a melting pot where we possibly lose our differences, my belief is that America is more of a beautiful rainbow, where we celebrate our differences.”
Cornell University senior Justin Kuang, a new citizen born in China, has been in America nearly all his life, and he said those differences are exactly what he’s enjoyed most about being here.
“I know for a lot of other people, they had very different paths to be here, and I think that’s super-duper cool,” Kuang said. “Especially after I was visiting China when I was growing up, it’s just a little nice that you get to meet a lot of different people in this country. I think that boils down to taking that for granted because I grew up here and you see the diversity of people you meet.”
After Tompkins County Judge John C. Rowley administered the oath, he welcomed the new citizens with a move that surprised more than a few.
“When I first did this a couple years ago, I was trying to think of the most American way to welcome you, and I came up with the high-five,” he joked. “So, we’ll do the high-five. If you don’t do the high-five, you’re not a citizen.”
The lighthearted moment soon shifted to words of encouragement from Rowley, where he asked the new citizens to stand strong despite what adversity might await them in this country.
“You’ll feel unwelcome at times, and we all feel out of place sometimes, some more than others,” Rowley said. “If you are unwelcome, then you’ll have to accept the poor behavior of others, do what you do to make that right, whatever that is, and know that you’re going to keep coming back. There’s no going home. This is home.”
Donohoe is happy to call Ithaca his home, though he admitted his home country will always hold a place in his heart.
“I think I might prefer the weather here, I might prefer a lot of things here, but my mommy and my daddy and my family are in Dublin, so it will always be a special place for me,” Donohoe said.
Liz Susmann, the project co-director and teacher at Open Doors English, gave some final words of advice for participants, using her experience as a teacher to tell a few stories and show an open mind and heart can go a long way.
“Every day, my work teaches me about the power of kindness,” Susmann said. “Before I was a teacher, I didn’t really understand how important or how transformational kindness is in the world, but every day, I watch my students and I see my fellow teachers doing their hardest with such kindness, and it really touches me. I can feel kindness in the air.”
Susmann asked participants to use their kindness to make America a better place for everyone, especially immigrants like them.
“In this time in our country and in our world, there’s so much unkindness between people, between governments, to the earth,” Susmann said. “At this time, in the U.S., at this moment, kindness is especially important. Kindness is a form of resistance when there are so many things that are wrong. When we live so that the people around us can feel our kindness in the air, we change the world.”
Nearly every speaker at the ceremony urged new citizens to embed themselves in county events, movements and governments.
“Participate in your community because we need you,” Koreman said. “We need you to register to vote. We need you to volunteer, give help to other neighbors, and we also need you to run for office. … On behalf of Tompkins County, I sincerely want to embrace and welcome all of you.”
Carolina Vogel, a new citizen from El Salvador, took those words to heart. She came to the U.S. to marry her husband, Gregory Vogel, and she’s looking forward to furthering her role in her community.
“Now, I want to vote, and I want to meet people and the community, and I want to help any teacher,” Vogel said. “I’m working as a teacher now, so I want to keep working and sharing my memories and my traditions with my students.”
Overall, everyone left with a message of acceptance.
“I’m honored that you have made the effort and, in some cases, took a very long and hard road to get here today,” Rowley said. “This is truly a moment to be celebrated. And most of all, I want to say welcome, welcome, welcome.”
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