By Art Haddaway

Patriotism was on fully display at Owasso High School this week.

Seventy local immigrants were sworn in as American citizens in front of friends and family at the school’s Mary Glass Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Sept 18 (see PHOTO gallery).

The naturalization ceremony, hosted by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, is a tradition dating back to the 18th century in which applicants take the Oath of Allegiance in their final steps to become naturalized civilians.

“A lot of these people have waited years to move up in line,” Court Clerk Mark McCartt said, “so this for them is a culmination of a long road that they’ve had to take.”

Ruslan Rizo of Kazakhstan, for example, began his path to citizenship three years ago, and was seen smiling and embracing his family during the proceedings.

“To me, it’s just a new life, it was a very long journey,” Rizo said. “It’s a big moment for me, because this is the greatest country in the world … and I think that the United States, it is the best; we’re blessed to be here.”

The Owasso Fire Department Honor Guard kicked off the ceremony with the Presentation of Colors, followed by a welcome address from Owasso Public Schools Superintendent Amy Fichtner and remarks by the Court.

“To our new citizens, welcome; we are so thrilled that you’re here,” Fichtner told attendees. “Ladies and gentlemen, today you are experiencing an event of a lifetime, and it’s our humble privilege as a school district to be a part of that.”

The service carried on with the Introduction of Petitioners as well as the ceremonial Oath of Allegiance and Presentation of Certificates before cheers and applause rang throughout the theater in celebration.

The Owasso Chorale Choir also performed “God Bless America,” and the Owasso Jazz Choir played “The Star-Spangled Banner” to an emotional crowd of new U.S. citizens.

Wednesday’s ceremony also offered high school students in attendance a chance to get a firsthand understanding of how federal courts operate, OHS Principal Mark Officer said.

“It’s just a great opportunity for our kids to be able to watch a proceeding like this,” Officer said. “Those 70 folks have put forth a lot of effort and a lot of commitment and resilience to accomplish that, so really for us it was just a chance for our kids to serve and learn.”

McCartt joined U.S. Judge Terrence Michael and Citizenship & Immigration Services Officer Brenda Schwartz in presiding over the session.