From Naturalization To Civic Participation

Librarian Mrs. Oliva exercises her right to vote in her first presidential election as a U.S. citizen


submitted by Mrs. Oliva

Mrs. Oliva registers to vote shortly after her naturalization ceremony.

The ability to vote in the 2020 presidential election was a first for a number of seniors— and one particular staff member. This year, librarian Mrs. Oliva cast her first vote to determine the next president of the United States. 

She opted to vote by mail— getting her ballot notarized by registrar Mrs. Berghoff— for the decisive election between incumbent President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. As a natural-born Canadian citizen, Mrs. Oliva had not been able to vote in past elections preceding fall 2019, when she gained U.S. citizenship. 

“I have to say it was particularly awesome because I left Canada when I was so young that I wasn’t even eligible,” Mrs. Oliva said. “It was just exciting.” 

Originally from Kelowna, British Columbia, she moved to the United States on a student visa to attend Lindenwood University, with an athletic scholarship to play field hockey. Following her college career she acquired an H1B visa, a temporary work permit. After it had expired, Oliva applied for a green card, allowing for permanent stay in the country. Before the green card would expire in February 2020, she decided to take the first step into the naturalization process in 2019 to match the U.S. citizenship status of her husband and son.

Oliva poses with her certificate of citizenship and the judge after being recognized as a U.S. citizen. (submitted by Mrs. Oliva)

The naturalization exam consists of an oral exam on 10 of 100 potential questions. Oliva prepared for the exam by studying a booklet of practice questions and creating flashcards to aid her memory of the topics regarding U.S. history and government. She attributes the ease of the exam to her ability to speak English, as non-English speakers have to take a reading and writing test in addition to the civics test. However, she believes the format of the test increased the difficulty.

“The harder part is that you’re being asked those questions face to face,” Oliva said. “The person who’s sitting across from you is making a decision about your fate based on how you answer those questions.” 

Nevertheless, she passed the exam and was recognized as a U.S. citizen at the naturalization ceremony, held at the Robert A. Young Federal Building in St. Louis. She was accompanied by her family as well as her fellow staff members and friends. 

“I wanted to support her in any way we could,” biology teacher Mrs. Rosner said. “Adding that moral support and kind of saying I can be your pseudo-family while you’re here.” Librarian Mrs. Dotson and French teacher Mrs. Farrelly attended the ceremony as well. The naturalization process was a first for both Oliva and Rosner, who were taken aback by the gravity of the situation. 

Oliva is accompanied by her family, Mrs. Dotson, Mrs. Farrelly, and Mrs. Rosner at her naturalization ceremony. (submitted by Mrs. Oliva)

“It was pretty interesting to see the whole process and it definitely gets you really feeling patriotic just getting to watch her have that moment with her family,” Rosner said. “It was just really emotional and fun to see your friend do something that big and be a part of it.”

Immediately after she gained citizenship, Oliva began to engage in American civic duty as she registered to vote with people set up outside of the federal building. She believes voting is a way for citizens to speak out against issues in the government.

“I think it’s hard to complain about the way things are if you don’t exercise your right to vote,” Oliva said. “You have more grounds to say, I’m not happy about this, and I tried to do something about it.” 

The simplicity and importance of the opportunity to vote also makes the first-time voter believe that all should engage in voting if possible. She views this as a recognition of gratitude towards the right to vote, as it was not always guaranteed for all citizens.

“It’s a way for us to just stand up and say this is what’s important to me,” Oliva said. “You know, there are other countries where especially women don’t enjoy that. And so we shouldn’t take it for granted.”