Uniondale high school students witness historic naturalization ceremony


A group of Uniondale High School students participated in an historic moment last week — as they witnessed 121 people sworn in as American citizens during a naturalization ceremony in a Central Islip courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 15.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco presided over the ceremony, administering the Oath of Allegiance to the new citizens in the Alfonse M. D'Amato U.S. Courthouse. The students, sitting alongside friends and family of the new Americans, contributed to the celebration by distributing flags from each person's home country to the new citizens. According to Judge Bianco, the new U.S. citizens represented more than 25 countries.

During naturalization, individuals who were born outside of the U.S. become full-blown citizens of the country after taking the Oath, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and thoughtfully reflecting on the significance of citizenship and civic responsibility.

During the celebration, students from the high school’s choir performed an acappella rendition of "Rise Up" by Andra Day.

Cadence Peace, 16, the choir's soloist, expressed the emotional impact she felt at the ceremony. Singing for the second consecutive year at the event, she noted that it was beyond anything she had imagined, and described feeling a little overwhelmed.

“I broke down a little bit while singing the solo because I saw people crying,” she said. “This is nothing I thought I'd ever do.”

The ceremony was not only attended by about 40 students in person, but also live-streamed on Zoom for more than 50 students in the high school’s auditorium.

The Uniondale School District has a 99-percent minority enrollment. Almost 62 percent of enrolled students identify as Hispanic with 35 percent identifying as Black — and many of these students’ families have arrived from different countries.

"The in-school naturalization trip was an exceptional opportunity for our scholars," Monique Darrisaw-Akil, district superintendent, said. "It is important for young people to understand the civic process of obtaining citizenship, and to witness firsthand the journey to become an American is something they will remember forever.”

Attending the ceremony for the first time was 14-year-old Raneia Barrett, a member of the school's Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. “It sounded interesting,” he said. “I wanted to see what was happening and how it was done.”

Uniondale has about 75 students in the Army JROTC, with nine members attending last week’s ceremony.

Maj. Anthony Telesca, who helps oversee the district’s Army JROTC program, highlighted the event as an opportunity for students to be socially engaged and emphasized its role in fostering responsible citizenship.

“The Army JROTC is not about joining the military,” Telesca said, “but it's about motivating students to become better citizens, and it's great for them to see how this is a part of the process.”

Judge Bianco, who pointed out that the ceremony represented the American dream for many, shared his own personal story. He said his grandparents arrived from Italy, and he’s the proud father of his youngest son, who was adopted from China. He celebrated the diversity of the nation, which, he says, “truly makes us great.” He also acknowledged that some of the new citizens are from Ukraine and Russia, telling them they can live here in peace, despite the nearly two-year war with each other.

“We are better because you are here,” the judge told the newly naturalized citizens.

“My message to you is simply this,” Bianco added, “the greatness of our nation and its unprecedented opportunity for freedom, prosperity and happiness for every single citizen, from sea to shining sea, is available to each and every one of you.”

After the ceremony, Judge Bianco answered questions from the students, both on Zoom and in person, offering valuable insights into the legal and civic aspects of the naturalization process. The students who attended in person also had the opportunity to participate in a mock trial with Bianco, who provided them with a firsthand experience of courtroom proceedings.