The happiest room in America was in Cleveland last Friday Morning: Phillip Morris

January 23, 2019 GMT

The happiest room in America was in Cleveland last Friday Morning: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- As the government shutdown debacle entered day twenty-eight day, dozens of legal immigrants excitedly streamed into the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in downtown Cleveland this past Friday morning. A swearing-in ceremony was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

Most of the courthouse visitors arrived with ample time to spare. By 7:30, many could be seen descending the stairs to a spacious jury room where District Court Judge Christopher A. Boyko would administer the Oath of Allegiance. They were preparing to turn in their Green Cards for a Certificate of Naturalization. They were ready to become Americans.


Courtrooms are seldom this joyful. The smiles between strangers were genuine and contagious. The ornate room felt united, welcoming, and indivisible.

At that specific moment in time, the basement floor of the Northern District of Ohio Federal Courthouse had to be one of the happiest public places in America. Outside that space, most of American government felt hopelessly divided, dangerously polarized, and unforgiving. But inside that courthouse floor, American government felt warm and welcoming to its newest citizens.

Every American should find the opportunity to attend a naturalization ceremony. They offer useful insights into the meaning and majesty of democracy. The ceremonies provide clear and valuable perspective on exactly what it means to be a citizen of a nation and not a subject of a government.

When an immigrant raises their right hand and takes the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, a powerful form of rebirth occurs. At that moment, the faces of freshly minted Americans brim with the promise, hope, and dreams that America inspires. It’s a sight to behold.

I watched as Judge Boyko swore in 68 new Americans hailing from 33 different nations. For a moment, I forgot about the debate over the wall, the so-called coming caravans, and the challenges posed by illegal immigration. I saw a diverse group of people who chose to play by the rules, follow the laws, and now were rewarded with citizenship.

With a mercifully short and upbeat speech, Boyko talked about the relative newness of America as a nation and its gift of an unsurpassed model of federal democracy to the world. He then read an even shorter poetic statement that he shares at each naturalization ceremony over which he presides. The poem is a tradition that he inherited from the late Judge John Manos.


Here’s an excerpt of the poem entitled My Creed said to be written by Dean Alfange:

“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon – if I can. I seek opportunity – not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.”

“It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, this I have done. All this is what it means to be an American.”

At first blush, some might view the poem as politically incorrect or subtly paternalistic or sexist. I hear none of those undertones. I hear an ode to responsibility and a celebration of freedom unhampered by the heavy hand of oppressive government. I hear a celebration of the freedom of the individual American to hew his or her own singular path.

When the citizenship ceremony ended in less than an hour, the new Americans streamed out into their new lives. Some stopped to register to vote at a station that had been set up for that purpose. Others took advantage of an opportunity to start the application for their U.S. passport. Most simply smiled and confidently headed out into a Cleveland winter and into the start of their lives as United States citizens.

The majesty of American democracy was once again renewed and refreshed one new citizen at a time.