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Kevin O'Toole, former senator from the 40th Legislative District, advises current and future politicians to have the courage to surround yourself with strong staff that are willing to stand up and tell you when you are wrong. Otherwise, they risk becoming disconnected from reality.

I had the occasion today to be a guest speaker at a Naturalization Ceremony hosted by the Honorable Brian R. Martinotti, United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey. For the longest of periods, Naturalization Ceremonies were routinely held periodically in the Federal Courthouses of New Jersey, but for some reason they stopped, only to be recently made part of an annual program. These programs should continue in full force and should be visited by all.

If you have never viewed or participated in one of these special ceremonies, I strongly suggest you make time.  On this special day, 25 individuals were honored and given their Naturalization  papers, and equally important, sworn in as citizens of these United States of America. These special 25 (including one mother-daughter team), immigrated from 17 countries including: Bangladesh, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Nigeria, Peru, Poland & Portugal.

Under the watchful stewardship of Judge Martinotti, we all took part in the National Anthem and then watched all 25 take the Administration of Oath and Address, this was followed by all in the room proudly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If this experience doesn’t make you feel alive, you might not be.

When it  was my time to address this group there wasn’t much I could add to the joy of this memorable day. I simply stood up and told them that 61 years ago my Mom took this very same oath and was given the same citizenship to this amazing country.  As they recited the pledge, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what my Mom experienced as she tried out this new language in this new land. I talked about the journey that took my Mom from war torn North Korea to South Korea, stealthily making it over the border by only traveling at night. I spoke about the fear and apprehensiveness that filled my Mom as she witnessed her two brothers get arrested and tortured. I spoke about my Mom making it to South Korea to work (laundering the clothes of South Korean soldiers). It was at that time, at that moment, she met my Dad, an American soldier who saw his future bride as she toiled away near the river.

I talked about my Mom’s odyssey to become an American citizen and how she is the proudest of our Nation’s citizens. My Mom is 80 years old now, and at this moment,  she doesn’t recall all of the trials and tribulations coming here — to her home – America. But she still remembers the day she was made a citizen and the day she was welcomed to this country. What a journey it has been for our family.

I told my Mother’s story so that all 25 individuals could help identify with their new home, feel a little less anxious, and feel proud of this place called America.

Make the effort to attend the next Naturalization Program and be even more proud of our country.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin O’Toole is the former LD40 Senator.

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