CHATHAM – Carolyn Wass has wanted to vote in a political election for some time, and now, after becoming an American citizen, she can and couldn’t be more excited, even if the ceremony was far more understated than is typical due to the ongoing pandemic.
Wass’s son was the first in the family to obtain US citizenship some time ago. His ceremony was held at Mechanics Hall in Worcester where he was one of at least 500 people receiving citizenship that day.
“It felt almost like a party,” Wass said. “The judge gave a wonderful speech, noting that he was a grandchild of immigrants and noting the importance of immigrants, and how we would add to the population.”
When her husband and daughter obtained their citizenship, this time at the Federal Courthouse in Boston, the ceremony was similarly grand. Fast forward to 2020 and the COVID-19 crisis, and Wass’s own citizenship ceremony was vastly different.
“I was one of six people at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Boston District Office,” Wass said. “We had to wait six feet apart. We didn’t get a judge. We got a USCIS officer. We were all wearing masks. The whole thing took five minutes. It was a very different ceremony. I joke that Alex (my son) got the cathedral wedding and I went to city hall.”
Wass later learned from the CIS officer just how convoluted the situation was due to the pandemic.
“There were three ceremonies an hour and they had been doing that since June 8 when they reopened,” Wass said. “There were two other officers in the building doing the same thing in different rooms.”
Wass, originally from England, had intended to get her citizenship much earlier, at the time the rest of her family did, but problems with her fingerprints kept delaying the process.
“I don’t have good fingerprints,” Wass said. “They can’t identify me through my fingerprints, so I was put off and put off and put off.”
Wass’s overall journey to citizenship began when her husband’s job in the high-tech security industry necessitated numerous moves to myriad countries, including Canada, Australia, and eventually the United States. Wass began entertaining citizenship here when she and her husband relocated to the Cape for his job, with her husband taking a job in Lexington after the Cape company closed. He now works remotely.
Meanwhile, Wass became the director of Broad Reach Assisted Living at the Victorian in Chatham, having worked her way to the top in true American fashion, retiring in February.
“Although there are many, many things to admire in all the countries I have lived in, I doubt I would have been given the opportunities I was given at Broad Reach,” Wass said. “I started at a minimum wage job. I was lucky that they thought I had some talent and I was promoted and promoted. I don’t believe it could have happened elsewhere.”
It was her friends and colleagues at the Victorian that helped Wass pass her citizenship test. Typically, she’d come in with questions for current events, but when the residents learned of her quest for citizenship, they turned the tables in support, asking her the questions that would be on the test, ensuring success.
But getting to the ceremony itself took quite an effort, not to mention the cost. First came getting fingerprinted, for which Wass had to travel out of state. Next was an interview in Boston prior to the ceremony itself. The fees, Wass said, were not minimal.
“For somebody who is not wealthy and working, this is quite a project,” Wass said.
That said, Wass is thrilled that soon, she’ll be able to vote.
“Actually, because I have lived in several different countries, at 66 I am voting for probably only the third or fourth time in my life,” she said. “For somebody that’s politically interested, it’s amazing.”
Wass sees it as her way of honoring those who fought ages ago for the right to vote, including women and Black voters.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Wass said. “I feel that the country is at a time of change. I’ve written to all of my elected people asking them what they plan to do about BLM. I’m very interested in their reply. This has to be the year of change.”
How she will vote depends upon the status of the virus at the time, but Wass, who was headed out to complete her registration paperwork on Tuesday, said she’ll be voting no matter what.
“I can vote. I’m waiting for town hall to open so I can get my registration done and will certainly be able to vote in the November election,” she said. “At 66, I might elect to be an absentee voter, depending on COVID. Luckily, I know the process. But this is the first time I get to mark the ballot.”