Just months ahead of receiving her diploma from Concordia University Wisconsin, Nataly Briceno Guerrero recently received a different piece of paper that holds tremendous significance for her future: her Naturalization Certificate.

With the hope of creating a better life for herself, Briceno Guerrero emigrated from Colombia in 2006 at the age of 17. Since then, she’s learned English, obtained an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation science, maintained a steady job at AMN Healthcare as a contract therapist assistant, and is now in the process of completing her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy through Concordia. She’s on track to graduate in May 2018.

Before crossing the commencement stage, however, she officially became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 20, 2017, during a naturalization ceremony held in her home state of California.

“Everything is working out so far,” Briceno Guerrero said. “I’m grateful for all that I have been able to accomplish so far in America.”

As if gaining citizenship wasn’t momentous enough, Briceno Guerrero’s classmate, Luke Boyd-Small, decided he wanted to honor her milestone in his own unique way.

Last month, the pair united for their Transitional Master of Occupational Therapy cohort’s monthly on-ground class on Concordia’s Mequon campus. Boyd-Small organized a small celebration among their classmates and gifted Briceno Guerrero with the American flag his family received when his grandfather, who served in the Navy, passed away.

“It wasn’t something I was trying to grandstand about or make a big deal about,” Boyd-Small said. “I just wanted to do something nice to congratulate her and make her feel welcome. It’s how I would want to be treated if I came here.”

Boyd-Small is part of a lineage of military members. In addition to his grandfather, Boyd-Small’s father and great-grandfather served, as did several of his extended family members. Boyd-Small, who was a sergeant in the Army, fought from 2003-2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

While the American flag is symbolic of many things, Boyd-Small said the flag he gave to Briceno Guerrero was meaningful because it represented his grandfather’s views of this nation.

He believed in what it means to be an American. ...If my grandpa were alive today, he would have wanted her to have it.

“He believed in what it means to be an American, and that includes being welcoming of new Americans,” Boyd-Small said. “When we are unwelcoming of new Americans, we tarnish the dream of all Americans. If my grandpa were alive today, he would have wanted her to have it.”

Briceno Guerrero said she was surprised to receive the gift and was touched by her classmate’s reaction to her news.

“He was so excited. He went crazy and told everyone in our class,” she said. “I’m very grateful.”

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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