One by one, audience members stood up as their country was called. By the time the 34 countries were announced, 100 people were standing in the Fine Arts Auditorium at SPC’s Clearwater Campus, ready to take the Oath of Allegiance to become American citizens.
Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was a first for the college. Since January, SPC has worked with USCIS to host free workshops for those interested in becoming United States citizens.
“It’s amazing that SPC helped organize this,” said SPC student Vlora Neziri, who addressed the audience and has been a Student Citizenship Ambassador since the program began. “Not only are they celebrating but we are celebrating with them. It shows that the college is there for the community.”
During the workshops, potential citizens learn about U.S. history and government through conversations with SPC professors and students. SPC students lead lessons plans provided by USCIS covering 100 questions that could be asked on the citizenship exam.
“We are a community institution and we thought this would be a wonderful place to hold this event,” said Joseph Smiley, Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at SPC. “The very essence of our society is based on the Constitution. It’s the most important document to any person becoming a citizen.”
The USCIS ceremony helped commemorate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, held every Sept. 17 in honor of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. This year marks the 227th anniversary of the Constitution. Celebrations are usually held the entire week and this year, USCIS will welcome more than 27,000 new citizens during 160 naturalization ceremonies from Sept. 17-23.
Along with fulfilling class requirements for service, students are getting an opportunity to give back to their community, a focus of ongoing efforts by the college and its Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS) to strengthen civics education and engagement.
“Our students are meeting people from all over the world and seeing America through their eyes,” said Professor Suzanne Preston, who has helped spearhead the citizenship project. “It is a privilege for our students to be a part of this life-changing process.”
After issuing the formal oath, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich congratulated the group on their accomplishment and noted the responsibility that comes with it.
“By becoming a citizen, you’ve made a contract with every other person in this room and in the country,” said Kovachevich, herself an SPC graduate. “We are the people and we make this country what it is. Remember this date, Sept. 17, because it is your new birthday.”
The 100 new citizens came from the following countries: Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.
“What struck me about the ceremony was the sheer happiness of it,” said Neziri, who went through the naturalization process when she was 20. She will graduate in December with her A.A. degree and plans to pursue her bachelor’s at SPC. “I’m so honored to do this, because it’s important me to inspire people and give them hope. That’s the least I can do.”
USCIS invites new citizens, their families and friends to share their experiences from the ceremonies via social media using the hashtag #newUScitizen.