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Central Illinois citizenship ceremony inspires community

A candidate for U.S. citizenship raises his right hand during the Oath of Allegiance April 23 at the Natural- ization Ceremony of 526 individuals from 97 different countries. Photo by Maggie Cipriano.
A candidate for U.S. citizenship raises his right hand during the Oath of Allegiance April 23 at the Natural- ization Ceremony of 526 individuals from 97 different countries. Photo by Maggie Cipriano.

On projector screens displayed in front of a crowd of nearly 1,000 people were the words “E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one,” as individuals from 97 different countries awaited the moment in which they would be sworn in as citizens of the United States.

Chief District Judge James Shadid presided over the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois held in Renaissance Coliseum, the formal court that administered the Oath of Allegiance that would finalize the citizenship of the candidates.

“My life, personally, was decided by a Lebanese immigrant,” Shadid said in his introductory remarks to the crowd. “That Lebanese immigrant was my grandfather…and the certificate you’re going to receive today, my grandfather received in 1919.”

Shadid told the crowd that citizenship is not just something an individual does for themselves but rather is an action that reaps benefits for generations to come, as it is paired with great responsibility and opportunity.

“No matter the books we read, the education we receive, the profession that we choose or the titles that come along the way, we already hold the highest office in the land: the office of citizenship,” Shadid said. “My wish for you is a future that keeps faith with our history and heritage: the hope to share in America’s promise that says out of many, we are one.”

Bradley alumna Katie Burnham (’14) sang the national anthem, Paul Phillips took to the podium to read each of the 97 countries aloud, and then a motion was made to confer the candidates for citizenship.

“Each of these candidates has been examined by an officer of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and each has been found to have met all of the statutory requirements for naturalization,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service District Director Thomas Cioppa said. “Each has resided in the United States as a permanent resident for the prescribed period of time. Each one has been determined to be a person of good moral character, supportive of our Constitution and form of government and well-disposed for the good order of happiness of the United States.”

The crowd was also presented with a surprise video from U.S. President Barack Obama, extending his congratulations and wishes of good fortune to the candidates.

“I ask that you use your freedoms and talents to contribute to the good of our nation and the world,” Obama said. “Always remember that in America, no dream is impossible.”
The Oath of Allegiance was then recited by the crowd, as Magistrate Judge Jonathan Hawley administered the oath. Upon completion, members of the crowd laughed, cried and embraced, while some even jumped for joy.

Following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, with the guidance of Dunlap Middle School’s seventh grade social studies class, three speakers shared words of hope and encouragement, two of which were immigrants turned citizens.

The first speaker, Al Mesa, told the crowd he has been living in the United States for 45 years and has been looking forward to this day.

“This country has given me the freedom of speech I’ve never had in my country…and the opportunity to have my daughters grow in an environment where we are taught to express ourselves and follow our dreams,” Mesa said.

The keynote speaker, Bradley baseball’s head coach Elvis Dominguez, shared his personal story of coming to the U.S. on a “freedom flight” from Cuba on May 6, 1971.

“I’m 52 years old, and the best meal I’ve ever had in my life was a ham and cheese sandwich I had on that freedom flight coming over to the United States,” he said. “That, to this day, is still is the best meal I have ever had.”

Dominguez told the crowd that by taking the Oath of Allegiance and becoming a citizen, they had purchased for themselves a fresh start and a new beginning.

“You just took the first step,” Dominguez said. “You became an American. The last four letters of that word says it all: I can. And you have just taken that first step not only for yourselves, but for your children and your family and generations after that.”

Dominguez relayed one final piece of advice to the crowd of new citizens.

“On January 6, 1983, I sat in your seat to take that Oath and make that jump,” he said. “Twenty years to the day that I stepped foot on this country, my first daughter Brianne was born. That’s an omen…I want you to remember this: you are now an American, an American in the land where anything is possible because you can now say, ‘I can. I can.’ If you choose the right path, and your children do the same thing, they can as well.”

Executive Director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service Brad McMillan helped coordinate the event with Shadid and said it is the “American Dream” on display.

“My hope is that it will remind Bradley students that our country has always been a melting pot of different individuals coming from different countries and cultures to be able to have the freedom and opportunity to succeed as Americans,” McMillan said. “I think it’s a good reminder that American citizenship is of great value, and you’re going to see that on the faces of the individuals taking the oath and their families and how excited they are to be joining our country as American citizens.”

Following the ceremony, families, friends and supporters gathered in the Renaissance Coliseum Atrium for food and refreshments. They were joined by the League of Women Voters, who offered support with voter registration.

This was the largest swearing in of American citizens in central Illinois history, according to McMillan.

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