I have volunteered with citizenship workshops, and helped people find resources to complete their citizenship process, but I have never seen the final and most important step in everything, the Naturalization Ceremony. On Friday I was able to attend my fist Naturalization ceremony and watch 150 people become U.S. Citizens. I was beyond excited to attend this ceremony; I always heard how inspirational and exciting they could be so I was happy that I was going to finally be able to see it for myself. It was held at St. Francis University here in Joliet, I arrived at the school, 30mins early, thinking I would be able to get a seat inside, but I was quite wrong. The school’s parking lots and surrounding streets were filled with cars and people already arriving for their ceremony. After I found a place and finally got into the school the halls were filled with people; families of the new citizens, and those who would be new citizens today. Everyone looked amazing, many women had on dresses, and men were dressed in suits.
I was able to speak to the Judge who was doing the Oath, Honorable Robert Dow, he works downtown but is a resident of Joliet. He said that doing this ceremony is one of his favorite things to do, it’s a positive event and it is great to see how many people strive to live here in the county and be recognized as U.S. Citizens. He told me that he lives close to the school and would have walked here if he had to. As each person walked in they were handed a little American flag to hold during the ceremony. It was great to see so many people excited to receive their first U.S. flag.
The auditorium was so full I was unable to find a seat and had to stand in the back, but it was better for me because I was able to see every person in the auditorium. The ceremony started with some words from the speakers and then they had a choir group sing the National Anthem. It was very emotional to see everyone in the auditorium singing each word with such pride; I saw many with tears in their eyes as they raised their flags. Before the Oath each country that was being represented was called out, and their residents stood up. Over 48 countries were represented, most of the group was from India, but they were people from; Iraq, Brazil, Poland, Germany, Sudan, Mexico, and Laos, just to name a few. I couldn’t believe how many different types of people were there. Hearing them recite their Oath and then everyone saying the Pledge together was a great moment. I caught myself just looking around and staring at each person, wondering what they went through to get to this point.
I was able to speak to a few people after the ceremony at the reception. So many people were elderly and this was something they had been looking forward to most of their life. Many people traveled to the ceremony from Chicago, Bloomington, Rockford, and many surrounding cities. I was helping people with directions back to the train stations in Joliet, and as I was doing this other people were offering rides to them, and offering to drop them off wherever they needed to go. A perfect stranger offering others rides in their car is not something I usually see, people are often hesitant or afraid to do this. But people were forming car pools with each other without even thinking, something small like this to me was very touching. They all had just experienced something together which now made them feel close to one another, they shared a bond, and even though they were from different countries, had different experiences, and had never met, they all had one thing in common today, they were U.S. Citizens.