Tears were shed, cheers were loud and even one little girl gleefully shouted “Yay Daddy!” as 14 people from all over the world officially became U.S. citizens on Thursday during a naturalization ceremony at Central Community College-Columbus.
The honorees ranged in age from young adult to seniors and hailed from more than a dozen different countries, including Guatemala, Iraq, Libya, the Philippines, Mexico, Nigeria, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
But on this day, officials from the federal office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, leaders of the City of Columbus, nonprofit Centro Hispano, CCC and many other community members applauded with great pride as each person put up their right hand and took the oath to make their American citizenship official. They earned a title that U.S. President Joe Biden said in a pre-recorded video is equal to that of American president and that he said he's most proud of: Citizen of the United States of America.
“We have no idea what their journey has been like but yet look at the wonderful place the journey has led them to … We’re just so fortunate they chose to be here,” Columbus City Council President Beth Augustine-Schulte said after the ceremony. “To think the work that they did was here and it was so valuable to them that they went through all the work they did. So, what an honor to be able to celebrate the accomplishments they’ve had.”
The ceremony commenced with the posting of the Colors by the American Legion Hartman Post 84 Honor Guard before Augustine-Schulte sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and led all in The Pledge of Allegiance.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Columbus City Council President Beth Augustine-Schulte leads everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance during the naturalization ceremony held Sept. 14, 2023, at Central Community College-Columbus. Augustine-Schulte also sang "The Star-Spangled Banner.")
CCC-Columbus Campus President Kathy Fuchser, Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, City Administrator Tara Vasicek and Centro Hispano Board Chairman Quelbin Izaguirre all took turns addressing the group throughout the ceremony, offering their congratulations and well-thought-out pieces of advice as each honoree begins their journey as Americans.
The goal is for Columbus to be known everywhere as a place that values diversity, celebrates unity and embraces the richness that every citizen and resident brings, the city administrator said.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: City Administrator Tara Vasicek speaks to the honorees and the rest of the audience during a ceremony at CCC-Columbus.)
“In a world often divided by boundaries, today we just wanted to gather and say to you that we celebrate with you the unified power of citizenship,” Vasicek said.
She then urged the new Americans to exercise all of their new rights that come with being citizens and to explore all the many ways they can be active community members, such as running for local office, serving on boards and committees and supporting Columbus happenings.
“A citizenship is not just about legal status. We see it as much more. It’s a commitment you all are making. A bond that will tie you to this place as your new home. We welcome you with open arms,” Vasicek said. “The beauty of citizenship really lies in its inclusivity and its ability to bring people together regardless of your background, your race, your religion, your language. It’s a testament to no matter where you come from originally, you can find a home here and you can build a life here and contribute to the growth and prosperity of your community and your personal lives.”
After the ceremony, Mayor Bulkley said being part of the ceremony and seeing firsthand just how much American citizenship meant to all the celebrated individuals is extremely rewarding.
“It’s very humbling,” Bulkley said. “To see the excitement in their faces and know what they’ve gone through to become a citizen … quite honestly, it’s something we all probably take for granted. I think sitting through something like this makes you step back and recognize we can’t take it for granted and it does mean something to people all over the world.”
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley addresses the honorees and the audience during the naturalization ceremony on Sept. 14 at CCC-Columbus.)
The naturalization ceremony was part of Centro Hispano’s “Welcoming Week” festivities that aim to encourage inclusivity for all. The festivities, put on in collaboration with fellow nonprofit Welcoming America, are dedicated to creating inclusivity in communities throughout the United States.
Those events, which kicked off Sept. 8 and continue through Sept. 15, have included a networking night at the Columbus Innovation Center, an afternoon of axe throwing at Axe in the Box, a cooking class and more.
“I’m happy and excited at the same time,” Centro Welcoming and Belonging Director Liz Rodriguez said on Sept. 8, following the opening networking night at the Innovation Center. “My hope is people know that Columbus is a very welcoming place and that the community can come together under very common interests. It doesn’t matter if you’re new or an existing resident. Columbus is the place to be.”
Centro Hispano Communications Director Katherine Lopez, who also is a member of the Columbus City Council, said she loved seeing people of all different backgrounds conversing and enjoying one another’s company. That is the essence of what Welcoming Week is all about, she noted.
“Seeing everyone from all sectors of the community come out to support Centro and Welcoming Week – that’s really the highlight for me,” Lopez said on Sept. 8. “I’m super excited.”
Centro Executive Director Karina Perez said after the naturalization ceremony it has been a whirlwind week, but she and the Centro team have been so happy with the results. She added her appreciation to CCC, the City of Columbus and others for helping make the week, including the ceremony, a massive success.
“It has been so fun. Liz has done an incredible job,” Perez said. “This has been a week that gets people together in the community.”