Welcoming new citizens at Rotary’s Citizenship Ceremony 2016
August 5, 2016
“Today is a happy day. My best day. Now I have a country.”
Those powerful words are from Khaled Abdo (that’s him in the picture with two thumbs way up), one of 30 happy people who became new Canadian citizens at Guelph’s Riverside Park on Canada Day, July 1, 2016.
Mr. Abdo came to Canada from Syria in 2009. But as a Kurd, he has never belonged to a country until this special day. The Kurdish people live in an area in the Middle East that spans parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and are considered a stateless people.
Khaled’s love for and enthusiasm about Canada is obvious as he beams while telling his story. But he feels just as strongly about Guelph: “This city is my special city.” In 2013, Frank Valeriote, who was then Member of Parliament for Guelph, helped Khaled to bring his wife and children to Canada after his sponsorship application was lost because of the closing of the Canadian embassy in Damascus in 2012. And recently, Khaled’s parents and cousin joined him after being sponsored by Jim Estill, CEO of Danby, who has committed to sponsoring 50 families (read more on that story)!
The Rotary Club of Guelph and Guelph Citizenship Committee deserve high praise for organizing the wonderful Citizenship Ceremony and incorporating it into Canada Day celebrations at Riverside Park for the eighth year. Marva Wisdom, a local community leader who is passionate about diversity and inclusion, emphasized that the decision to make the ceremony so public was intended to build connections between the new citizens and the larger community.
Citizenship Judge Larry Gravill opened the ceremony with a warm and welcoming address. “Many of you have traveled far…Your achievements till now will make you great Canadians,” he said. He was accompanied on stage by other dignitaries including Lloyd Longfield, Guelph’s Member of Parliament; Liz Sandals, Guelph’s Member of Provincial Parliament; Cam Guthrie, Mayor of Guelph; Rosemary Clark, Rotary President; Candice Stewart, Chair of the Guelph Citizenship Committee; and Diana Petcoff, Citizenship Clerk with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.
Judge Gravill then led the new citizens — who have come to Canada from Syria, Nepal, Bhutan, Venezuala, Egypt, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark — in a recitation of the oath of allegiance in both English and French. He invited the many guests in the audience to join in the recitation. One by one, the new citizens were then called to the stage to receive their citizenship certificates. With Ms Petcoff’s magic words, “Congratulations, you are now Canadian citizens,” tears and hugs flowed openly among the crowd. In his welcome speech, Mayor Guthrie reminded us that some of the “new” citizens had actually been contributing to Canada for a long time. And Ms. Clark offered some more kind words: “Thank you for choosing Canada as a part of your life’s journey.”
No-one seemed to notice that the ominously dark clouds looked as if they would burst open throughout the ceremony. The big smiles on everyone’s faces lit up the park.
What made the day even more meaningful, however, was a special session earlier in the day at the Evergreen Centre, where all those receiving their citizenship participated in a discussion about what it means to be Canadian and shared their own stories. “The meeting highlighted that the new citizens saw Canadians as caring, helpful, friendly people and that’s why they chose to come here,” said MP Longfield.
Nervana Wadie (that’s her in the picture wearing a big smile), who is studying biomedical engineering at the University of Guelph and who received her citizenship along with her entire family, perfectly summed up the day: “I’m really excited. It was great. As soon as we finished the oath, I couldn’t stop smiling, even when I shook hands with the judge. It’s an honour that [the citizenship ceremony] is on Canada Day. I love that Guelph does that. And I love that Guelph does the roundtable discussions. I connected with a lot of people and got their contact information. I feel that it was a great honour, and I’m pretty sure everyone here does too.”
The honour, Nervana, goes both ways. Judging by the commitment, warmth, enthusiasm, and skills of the new citizens, we are honoured that you have all chosen Canada to be your new home.