April 20, 2013
By D.W. Norris
CARBONDALE — With right hands raised, 69 people took their oaths of citizenship Friday at a naturalization ceremony at SIU’s law school.
The ceremony was the culmination of months, sometimes years of study and striving. Citizenship candidates came from more than two dozen countries. The country’s newest citizens were greeted with a standing ovation after taking the oath.
Guadalupe Paredes, 23, came to the United States with her family 15 years ago. A native of Mexico, Paredes lives in Carbondale and attends SIU with the hope of being a social worker upon graduation.
“I’ve been waiting for this forever, so it’s good to have this thing completed,” Paredes said. “I’m excited.”
Paredes said she planned to celebrate with friends.
Surekha, Vivek and Sunny Patel, all of whom emigrated from India, smiled and held miniature American flags as they exited the ceremony after receiving their certificates of citizenship.
Vivek Patel, 23, said it took about five months of classes to earn citizenship.
Sunny Patel said the feeling was difficult to put into words.
“I don’t know how to explain it to you,” he said. “It feels good, though.”
U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert administered the oath.
“I look forward to this day every year because usually when you go to court there are winners and losers,” Gilbert said. “On this day everybody is a winner.”
Gilbert said the group was the largest he had seen in several years.
U.S. Marshal Don Slazinik said it was an honor to lead the group in its first Pledge of Allegiance as citizens.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon was the featured speaker, an honor her father, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, undertook about 15 years ago.
Simon said the ceremony was a special event and she thanked the candidates for choosing to become citizens. She said the naturalization reminded her of what it was to choose to be an American.
“You bring to us your backgrounds, which enriches us dramatically,” Simon said.
Gilbert encouraged the new citizens to be active participants in democracy and their communities as they carve out their destinies.