Voices big and small proclaim: ‘I’m proud to be an American’

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By Jonah Garcia

Mixed thoughts rushed around my head like bees around a hive as I walked into the Phoenix Convention Center, the room where soon 50 immigrants would be sworn in as citizens of the United States. I was both excited and nervous to be participating in a huge event that not only was a naturalization ceremony, but also was the kickoff for the new non-profit organization, Citizenship Counts. This organization teaches students to honor their American citizenship and my middle school, Villa Montessori Charter School, along with Mission Montessori Academy, were the first student groups to work with Citizenship Counts. I sat towards the back with some of my fellow students and watched as other students walked onto the stage to share important speeches and documents by great American leaders. Every student who spoke on stage read perfectly and with enthusiasm.

My role was to read my essay, which was selected as the winner of the Citizenship Counts’ essay contest. One of the Citizenship Counts staff members came over to me and said in a very polite tone, “Jonah, please come with me. I want to show you backstage and introduce you to everyone.” On the inside I jumped with joy because I was about to meet some very famous people. I followed her backstage and right in front of me was not only famous Holocaust survivor and author Gerda Weissmann Klein and Superintendent of Education Tom Horne, but also former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “It is a pleasure to meet you Your Honor,” I hastily said while shaking her hand. All of the adults were smiling at me and laughing, which made me feel comfortable. They were all very kind to me and we all took a picture together.

This special ceremony was a life-changing experience during which I looked over at all of the people who came from many different nations with varied adventures and backgrounds. – Jonah Garcia

Then we were all led by a security guard to stand in a single file line in the order we would sit on stage. As I walked out from backstage onto the stage, I finally noticed how huge this event was going to be. There were 50 immigrants, but sitting before me there were close to 400 people in attendance at the ceremony. The bright lights that pointed at the stage shined down on us and made me feel confident and proud to be standing up there with many superiors.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivered an amazing speech that had put a smile on all of the faces of the new citizens, making them feel welcome and cheerful. Gerda Weissmann Klein shared her heartfelt story, telling the audience how she became a citizen and what an honor it was for her to be speaking to all of the new citizens with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor by her side. It was one of the most touching stories I have ever heard, with a journey so very sorrowful, but with an ending so epic. Next it was Superintendent Tom Horne’s turn to talk. He spoke about the importance of civics education and the need to welcome new citizens into the community. He said how America has many opportunities that should be taken advantage of and they should use their citizenship to advance to the top and be successful in life. Then it was my turn to speak. As I stepped towards the stage, I felt more confident than ever as I looked across the crowd with the hundreds of faces watching me. I delivered my speech with a strong voice and a smile. When I finished, the crowd applauded loudly which made me feel amazingly proud. At the end of the event, all 400 people in the room stood up and sang “I’m Proud to be an American,” as the new citizens proudly waved their American flags. This special ceremony was a life-changing experience during which I looked over at all of the people who came from many different nations with varied adventures and backgrounds. It made me realize that I’m proud to be an American.

Jonah Garcia is a 7th grade student at Villa Montessori Charter School and a proud participant in the Citizenship Counts program.  For more information regarding Citizenship Counts, visit or call (602)-957-9779.

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