Students in the Citizenship class at Mid-State Literacy Council are learning about the history and government system in the US. What better way to reinforce their learning than to meet the mayor of State College. Donald Hahn, who took office as mayor of State College in January of 2018, made time to meet with the class to talk about his experience as a son of immigrants, his role as mayor, and the good things about our town.

Having parents who immigrated from Korea (his father is from South Korea and his mother from North Korea), Mayor Hahn recalled when they passed the Citizenship test in the 1970s when he was growing up. He also reminisced about his year spent in Korea when he was 13. It was a big transition, but he now sees the benefit that it provided. One advantage is that he can empathize with the challenges that new international residents encounter as they adjust to life in a new country. Indeed, encouraging diversity and welcoming people from fellow nations has been an important focus for his role as mayor.

After serving on the Borough Council for 12 years and acting as its President for 2 years, it was a natural transition for him to run for mayor. Being a lawyer not only equips him well for the role; it has also revealed his great enjoyment in helping others. He often undertakes pro-bono work for those who cannot afford legal services. It’s a gratifying profession and he enjoys helping people; likewise, as mayor, he’s been able to serve his town and make a difference in people’s lives.

Mayor Hahn explained to the students some of the duties of his office: acting as a ceremonial representative, presiding over council meetings, and signing ordinances. This was a good opportunity for a mini-lesson to teach the meaning of the term ordinance and how it differs from state and national laws. He also pointed out that he is often called upon to help with fundraising efforts for local humanitarian organizations. On this point, he shared the details about his brave rappelling adventure down the 12-story Fraser Centre building for a recent charity event. It was a rather harrowing experience but demonstrates the lengths he’s willing to go to serve the public!

Curious to hear the students’ perspectives as well, Mayor Hahn asked what they thought about State College. Since most are from large, crowded cities in their native countries, a common theme was the peace and safety that State College provides. With its mountains and scenic views, the environment reflects and reinforces the calm pace of life in our town, at least in comparison to the hectic, distracted milieu that surrounded them previously.

We are so grateful for this unique opportunity provided to these students to learn more about their local leader and government. More importantly, the personal connection will help to ease the transition they are planning to make. As they continue to prepare to become full citizens of this country, they are choosing to make a commitment to be active members of our community and nation. It’s a serious and heartfelt choice that can also invoke a degree of sorrow as the students take the oath to renounce their previous citizenship. The Citizenship class helps them to understand the principles upon which the country was built, as well as its rich heritage of diverse voices and influences, so that they can affirm this decision and move forward with hope.

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