Teo Stoica isn’t the type to skip class. After all, her parents moved to the United States so she could have all the opportunities America has to offer, including a top-notch legal education at the University of Chicago.
But on April 6, Teo decided to forgo Criminal Law and Civil Procedure II so she could take the bus downtown, raise her right hand, and take the oath of American citizenship as one of 106 immigrants from 46 countries. For a budding lawyer, the words were especially apropos.
“I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” she said, holding a small American flag she received as she walked into the ceremony at the Chicago Field Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Teo has lived in the United States as long as she can remember. She was born in March 1990 in Romania, four months after Communism fell. Her parents, all too aware of Romania’s economic and political problems, moved the family to Canada when she was five years old. When she was 10, they moved to suburban Seattle, where Teo grew up swimming and playing water polo. She earned a degree in finance and international business from the University of Washington, and now she’s about to wrap up her first year at the Law School.
Because she grew up in America, Teo didn’t expect to feel much during the ceremony. But she was surprised, she said. She started to get emotional as she thought of her parents, who left Romania with two suitcases and almost no money. They had both earned college degrees in Romania, but enrolled in community college in Canada to study computer science and made careers as software engineers.
“They basically did it all for me,” Stoica said. “My mom had dreams of me going to the best schools in America, and making my way through a capitalistic economy based on merit.”
Livia and Dan Stoica became citizens themselves in recent weeks. It’s been a long journey for them, Mrs. Stoica said by phone from Seattle. She remembers December 1989, when she was pregnant with Teo and the fighting between the police and the army was so bad that she couldn’t safely leave their apartment complex. They lived in Sibiu, in central Romania, and bullets sometimes hit nearby buildings. When she did sneak out for milk, hiding behind buildings as she rushed to the grocery, she found the store closed. Even though Teo was born in a free Romania, they felt they had to leave.
“It was just chaos,” Mrs. Stoica said. “And Romania is still struggling. It’s doing much better, but it’s a very, very slow process. We wanted more.”
Today, Romania is much poorer than the other European Union nations. It suffers from ongoing political instability, and its prime minister resigned in February amid protests over austerity measures and stagnant growth, according to The New York Times.
For Stoica, “The biggest thing that hit me as I became a citizen was that I realized how different my life would’ve been had my parents not taken the big risk coming here, giving up everything.”
As a child, Stoica felt like both an American and an outsider. She found herself interpreting her parents’ Romanian customs for other people, and explaining American culture to her parents. She was long fearful of losing her Green Card, or leaving the country for too long and not being able to come back. Several scholarships and internships were off-limits to her.
Now, it’s all available. And Stoica, who has traveled extensively in Europe, has a perpective she’s especially grateful for.
“Now I’m determined to do something as amazing as my parents,” she said.
For starters, she’s working this summer in the legal department for Microsoft in Seattle. After graduation, she wants to find a job where she can put her business and law degrees to use, perhaps in intellectual property law or with a technology firm. She loves Chicago and might stay in the city after graduation. She’ll be an impressive job candidate for many reasons, not the least of which is her ability to speak Romanian, French, and Italian. And now she can apply for judicial clerkships, get a U.S. passport, and vote in this year’s presidential election.
Her family couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s a dream come true,” Mrs. Stoica said. “It opens the door to so many possibilities.”