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New Citizens Naturalized At BC

Heights Editor

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 01:03

“Well, good afternoon, fellow citizens,” said the Honorable George A. O’Toole, a Massachusetts district judge and BC ’69, addressing 94 United States citizens naturalized in Robsham Theater on Thursday.

The naturalization ceremony marked the start of a symposium titled “Migration: Past, Present, and Future.” The 94 naturalized at the service represent 42 countries, and among them was Chuda Rijal, A&S ’16, whose family immigrated to the United States from Bhutan. The event was presided over by O’Toole, and served as an official session of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts—such ceremonies are customarily held in community venues, rather than courtrooms. As part of BC’s sesquicentennial celebration, the event served as reaffirmation of the University’s commitment to immigrant populations, an important ideal in its founding.

“In the very early years, we were a school that was founded specifically for immigrants and the children of immigrants to try to bring them into American society and help them advance their own family fortunes over the generations,” said James O’Toole, Clough Millennium Chair in History at BC, who is currently writing a history of the University as part of the sesquicentennial celebration. He is also brother of George A. O’Toole. “It’s appropriate we reconnect with the very early years of the school.”

“The very first school year was 1864, 1865, so right at the end of the civil war. About 60 students were enrolled at one time or another in that year,” O’Toole said. “About six of them were immigrants themselves, they had been born abroad, either in Ireland or Germany, and come to this country as youngsters with their parents. About two-thirds of them were students who had been born here, but both of their parents had been born abroad and immigrated, and pretty nearly all the rest were students whose either mother or father had been born abroad. So immigrants were everywhere at BC in the early years, and in fact, the founding of BC is done to try to help those very people.”

Tuition for BC was purposefully less expensive than surrounding universities in the early years to encourage the enrollment of immigrant groups—it was kept to $30 a year. Additionally, most of the Jesuits involved in founding BC were immigrants, including BC founder Rev. John McElroy, S.J., who immigrated from Ireland, and BC’s first president Rev. Johannes Bapst, S.J., who immigrated from Switzerland. This pattern of serving immigrants continued into the 1940s, but heavily declined in the decades following the legal restriction of immigration imposed in the 1920s.

Today, the number of immigrants and children of immigrants enrolled at BC is unknown—this information can no longer be tracked for political reasons. Tuition for the 2013-14 academic year is set to reach $44,870, and although this price may discourage some immigrants from attending BC, O’Toole remains optimistic about BC’s commitment to immigrant groups.

“Costs go up, the tuition has to rise connection with that, but that’s why I think it’s good BC has also made the commitment every time we raise tuition, that we also raise financial aid,” he said.

The ceremony Thursday featured a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” by the BC bOp! jazz ensemble. The ROTC Color Guard performed the posting and retirement of the colors, and UGBC vice president Kudzai Taziva, who immigrated from Zimbabwe himself, led the Pledge of Allegiance. George A. O’Toole and University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., both prepared remarks for the occasion.

“In some sense, your citizenship is special, because it comes to you not as an accident of birth, but as a result of a thoughtful and informed choice you have made,” O’Toole said. “You don’t just happen to be American citizens—you decided to be. And that fact infuses your citizenship with a special mentality for it. But in another, and I think far more important sense, your citizenship is no different, by the tiniest bit, from anybody else’s.”

He proceeded to individually recognize the 42 countries represented at the event. The families and friends of the immigrants, BC faculty members, and undergraduate students who made up the Robsham audience cheered for the immigrants as they stood waving miniature American flags and gesturing toward the guests at the event. The occasion brought several of the audience members and new citizens to tears.

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