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Naturalization ceremony celebrates American values and history

One of the largest naturalization ceremonies in Central Illinois history, over 650 people became United States citizens on Tuesday in the Renaissance Coliseum. Photos by Wiiliam Craine.

Over 650 immigrants from all over the world became American citizens on Tuesday.

Bradley University hosted a naturalization ceremony in which immigrants from 77 countries were sworn in. Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and Bradley President Gary Roberts opened the ceremony and Chief U.S. District Judge James Shadid presided over the ceremony.

“It was very well organized,” said Joseph Scimo, senior television arts major. “It was moving to see crowd members wiping their eyes.”

The ceremony took place in the Renaissance Coliseum at 11 a.m., and began with a video of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin addressing the new American citizens.

“It’s America’s story,” Durbin said. “Welcome to America, my fellow Americans.”

Oak Grove Elementary students walked down the aisle with American flags humming “God Bless America,” and proceeding to surround the stage. They sang “God Bless the U.S.A.” in unison. Then, the Bradley ROTC presented the colors.

After the presentation, Ardis spoke to the crowd about why the ceremony was important. He talked about how everyone has a story and that Peoria welcomes each of them and their stories.

Then, the microphone was turned over to President Roberts. Welcoming citizens to Bradley, he spoke about how overwhelmed he was with the ceremony and how moving it was to be a part of it. Roberts recognized Elena Gabor, associate professor of organizational communication at Bradley, as she received her citizenship.

Melissa Fuentes, junior political science major, reflected on how diversity affects her own life, at home and on the speech team and how it makes America a stronger place, breeding empathy from those of different cultures.

As Fuentes finished, a video played on the screen filled with speeches from presidents like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Additionally, the video shared quotes about immigration and its impact on America from Franklin D. Roosevelt and George Washington.

Choking up, Shadid reflected on how his grandparents came over from Lebanon in the 1930s. He shared the story about how his late father worked his way up through the police ranks and befriended a Harvard graduate, Barack Obama, while serving in the state legislature. Shadid finished up his remarks, reciting the Preamble of the Constitution to reflect on the importance of the ceremony.

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