Share story

Students at Eastgate Elementary School in Bellevue got a civics lesson they’ll probably never get from a book.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which has held its naturalization ceremonies in some of the most unexpected places — from Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon to aboard a guided missile cruiser during Seafair — swore in 22 new citizens Wednesday morning before students at Eastgate.

The immigrants were from 13 countries and included a family from Canada.

“This is democracy in action,” Gail McDonald, principal of Eastgate, said in an interview before the ceremony. “The tie-in here is particularly valid; it’s meaningful to so many of our kids who are recent immigrants themselves.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

USCIS swears in new citizens four days a week at its office along International Boulevard in Tukwila. In addition to its July Fourth ceremony at Seattle Center that draws hundreds of intended citizens, it hosts smaller events throughout the year at venues like city halls.

And while ceremonies at schools aren’t as common, they play a special role.

In Bellevue, at least one in three residents is foreign- born, and at this school more than half the students are ethnic minorities. An employee of the agency with a student at Eastgate recommended the location for the ceremony.

This citizenship event is especially timely for the school’s fifth-graders, who this spring will begin learning about U.S. history and government — covering such topics as constitutional rights, religious freedom and the Bill of Rights, teachers Karen Schmidt and Doug Faulkner said.

Several dozen parents and teachers of the students and relatives and friends of the new citizens witnessed the swearing-in — a ritual that included the singing of “One Nation” by the students and a video presentation by President Obama.

Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee delivered the keynote address, urging the students and new citizens to dream big, saying that if they do, they, too, could someday become mayor — or president of the United States.

Born in China, Lee came to the U.S. in 1958 to attend college in Michigan before moving to Washington state in 1962 to work for Boeing.

A longtime city councilman, he was selected mayor by a unanimous City Council a year ago, becoming the first ethnic minority in that position.

In an earlier interview, Lee said that as new immigrants deal with the many challenges of adjusting to a new culture, it’s also important for them understand the value of community engagement — not just mere survival.

“I hope I’m a good role model to encourage the ever-growing immigrant community in Bellevue,” he said.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or

On Twitter @turnbullL.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.