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Aquinas teacher becomes U.S. citizen

| Monday, June 17, 2013, 7:31 p.m.
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Juan Mata speaks to Aquinas Academy students at the ceremony, which was both educational and full of emotion.

Aquinas Academy closed the doors for one day last month to allow the entire school community to celebrate a milestone in a teacher's life.

Teachers, administrators and students in kindergarten through the 12th grade filled seven school buses May 24 and traveled to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood to cheer for their teacher and director of admissions, Juan Mata, as he took the Oath of Allegiance and became a naturalized American citizen.

“It was one of the best days we had at school this year,” said Mata, who emigrated from Madrid, Spain. “It was very special.”

Mata came to the United States in 1998 to teach at Aquinas Academy for one year during the school's early formation. He returned to his teaching position in Madrid but missed the Aquinas Academy community and Pittsburgh, so in 2000 he moved to Hampton and became a permanent staff member at the Hampton school.

Mata has been a fixture at the academy during his tenure. He started out teaching fifth grade, then taught seventh-grade math and even drove a bus for the school in the afternoons. He coached girls lacrosse for 11 years when the team was in need of a coach. Today, he serves as director of admissions but still teaches religion class twice a day to sixth-graders because, Mata said, he is “a teacher at heart.”

Leslie Mitros, head of the school, recognized Mata's “huge, long journey” to reach the point of becoming naturalized and told him the whole school would be there to support him.

The academy then worked with the Pittsburgh Field Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to include the students in the naturalization ceremony that welcomed 67 naturalization candidates from 34 countries to the United States.

Boy Scout Troop 596 out of Aquinas Academy presented the colors at the ceremony; the high school choir sang the national anthem; and the first-graders sang “You're a Grand Old Flag” before the presentation of the certificates. Every student at the school made a congratulatory card for the candidates.

“It really struck you with how important this ceremony must be,” said Elena Liguori, who will be a 10th-grader next year. “The fact we were going to take a whole day to be present and participate in it really struck you with how important this is.

Liguori, of McCandless, said attending the ceremony made her appreciate how hard other people must work in order to obtain the freedoms she was born into and was proud to cheer on her teacher.

“It was great to see him achieve what he has been working for for so many years and working for for so long,” she said.

Paul Adams of Richland said he felt a sense of patriotism watching the candidates take their Oath of Allegiance and proud of his teacher for achieving his dream of becoming an American.

“Everyone was really happy,” said Adams, who will be a 10th-grader in the fall. “It was a great time for the school, and it was nice to see Mr. Mata finally get naturalized.”

The day was made even more special for Mata because he was asked to speak at the ceremony as a representative of the naturalization candidates.

Mata said the moment he took the Oath of Allegiance, he was filled with joy and gratitude for all of the people who helped him reach that point in his life and to be able to do it in front of the Aquinas Academy community.

“The school is the reason I'm here,” Mata said. “So to me, just particularly as myself, I very much loved the fact that I become a citizen in front of the entire school. To me it was very important and very special to be able to share that with every student and every teacher in the school.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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