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Averyt: New Citizens

This July 4th, an early morning naturalization ceremony took place at Calvin Coolidge's birthplace in Plymouth. The setting was significant, since Coolidge was one of two presidents from Vermont and the only U.S. president born on the 4th of July. The swearing-in was both solemn and celebratory, with President Coolidge's great-granddaughter singing the National Anthem.

Nineteen people stood that day and pledged their allegiance to the United States of America. Two of my neighbors were among them.

After 40 years in the states, my Canadian neighbors in Shelburne have become citizens. They're the ones who always fly the American and Canadian flags on either side of their doorway and for years have hosted an annual neighborhood summer barbecue.

They're also the neighbors who snow-blow driveways up and down the street when a blizzard hits, host visiting international students and lead Cub Scout and Brownie troops. Basically, they give meaning to the phrase good neighbors.

But until a few weeks ago, they weren't American citizens. Their children were born here and for more than 30 years they've called Vermont home. But all these years my friends have been resident aliens. When I asked why they’d finally decided to become citizens of their adopted country, they said that initially they waited until they could become American citizens without giving up their Canadian citizenship. Then somehow the years passed and they never followed up, until seven months ago when their green cards came up for renewal. Now, they decided, it was time.

My neighbors returned home that day in time to once again host the summer neighborhood barbecue. Two brand new American and Canadian flags hung in welcome by the front door and there were balloons offering congratulations, as well as a tabletop picture slideshow of the morning's citizenship ceremony. Proudly displayed were the framed certificates officially declaring my friends American citizens.

Of course, they’ll always love deeply the country of their birth as well as the country of their choosing. One of the privileges of American citizenship they say they'll cherish most is the right to vote, to voice their opinion and make it count in the voting booth.

At the barbecue that afternoon, I stood on the deck listening to my friends talk enthusiastically about their new citizenship, and I felt proud for them. I also paused to consider how much I appreciate my own citizenship - that being an American is both a privilege and a responsibility, something special we should never take for granted.