A warm Dal welcome for new citizens

- December 8, 2016

Tristan Cayaoyao, left, receiving his certificate of Canadian citizenship at a ceremony Wednesday in LeMarchant Place on Dalhousie's Studley Campus. (Danny Abriel photos)
Tristan Cayaoyao, left, receiving his certificate of Canadian citizenship at a ceremony Wednesday in LeMarchant Place on Dalhousie's Studley Campus. (Danny Abriel photos)

Tristan Cayaoyao takes a bite of cake with red and white Canadian flag-themed icing on it and darts over to stand next to his mother, father and two older siblings for a photo.

This is more than just your average snapshot in the making: It's one of the first images taken of the third-year Dalhousie Industrial Engineering student and his family together as Canadian citizens.

Just moments earlier, the family and 35 other individuals from 13 countries took the oath of citizenship here in the atrium of Dal's LeMarchant Place.

Tristan was one of three Dal students to receive their citizenship certificates during Wednesday afternoon’s ceremony, the first of its kind ever to be held at Dal. The university hosted the event on behalf of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the government department that administers citizenship ceremonies in different locations across the country throughout the year.

Tristan and his father, brother and sister first arrived in Canada from the Philippines in August of 2011 to join his mother, who had been working in the hotel industry in Halifax for about four years prior in order to support the family back home.

The family came seeking better opportunities. Fifteen years old at the time, Tristan entered into grade 10 at his local high school and eventually completed the qualifying year for Engineering at Saint Mary's University before becoming a Dal student.

"The people here are very friendly,” says Tristan, now 20, on what he appreciates about living in Canada. "They accepted me even though I was from the Philippines and wasn't that good at speaking English in the beginning.”

He credits this welcoming atmosphere for some of the many opportunities he’s had since arriving, including working as a leader for international student orientation in his high school and as a mentor for children at a local church.

“I don't know if I could have done that in the Philippines,” he says, “but here I was very free to do these things.”

Strength in diversity

Dal President Richard Florizone was on hand at the ceremony to welcome Tristan and the others on behalf of the university. He said Dal and other universities are woven into their communities with teaching and research and in the service they provide to society, in part, through attracting and retaining international students and scholars.

As Dr. Florizone noted, Dal now has students from more than 115 countries and nearly 15 per cent of its student population comes from outside Canada. Times Higher Education, a weekly publication known for its global university rankings, has ranked Dal as one of the top 200 most international universities in the world for the past two years, something Dr. Florizone said brings him great pride.

“Diversity is Canada’s strength,” he said. “Our international students and faculty make amazing contributions to Dalhousie and I know that each of you who take that oath today will make your own profound contribution to this country we call home.”

Dal president Richard Florizone presents a box of chocolate to a young boy at Wednesday's ceremony.

Citizenship judge Ann Janega presided over the afternoon’s proceedings, which included the swearing of an oath to Canada (in the name of Queen Elizabeth II) by all candidates and the presentation of citizenship certificates to each individual.

The new citizens — some of them affirming their oath together with family members — were also presented with mini Canadian flags and pins as well Dalhousie chocolates, a gift that seemed doubly appreciated by the children being sworn in.

“Everyone has a unique story, whether refugee, a new skilled worker, or someone who has just fallen in love with Canada, or perhaps who has fallen in love with someone in Canada,” said Janega, to laughs from a packed room filled with friends, family and supporters of the new citizens.

She spoke of the rights and responsibilities that come with being Canadian and the values of compassion, openness and diversity that all are expected to “embrace as our newest citizens.”

Janega also took a moment to reflect on those citizens who were here first. “I think it’s useful for us to remember that Indigenous people were the very first citizens of Canada,” she said, after expressing her honour in sharing the stage with Geri Musqua-Leblanc, one of Dal’s Elders in Residence who presented a prayer later in the ceremony.

A meaningful ceremony

Third-year Dal music student Maggie Anderson led the room in a bilingual rendition of the Canadian national anthem to close out the ceremony, during which Dal students Hemlata Shirsat (a fourth-year resident physician in Anatomical Pathology from India) and Sidney Klein (a first-year Management student originally from New York City) joined Tristan in gaining citizenship.

Sidney, who first moved to Ontario in 2008 with his family at 10 years old, said the occasion was particularly special for him.

“It’s pretty cool to say you got to become Canadian at your university,” he said, adding that a bunch of his new friends from the fraternity he just joined came out to his ceremony.  

Although exams have been keeping him busy, Sidney said it was nice to wake up Wednesday morning knowing that he was finally about to become Canadian.

“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” he said. “I woke up and looked at all my study schedules and was like, ‘Oh yeah, I have to go become a Canadian today.’”

Dal student Sidney Klein raises his hand to swear his citizenship oath.


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