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Newly minted citizens; Fort hosts naturalization ceremony

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Eighty-two people from a variety of countries take the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony Friday morning at the Fort Scott National Historic Site. The proceedings were conducted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.(Jason E. Silvers/Herald-Tribune)
FORT SCOTT, Kan. -- More than 80 people representing dozens of different countries were granted the rights and freedoms of U.S. citizens during a ceremony held Friday morning on the parade grounds of the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas conducted the proceedings with the Honorable David J. Waxse presiding over the ceremony. Each of 82 applicants from 25 different countries took the oath of citizenship and received a certificate stating they had met all the requirements to be granted the rights, privileges and responsibilities of American citizens.

One of those new citizens is Nyandeng Deng, a student from South Sudan who was a little late arriving to Friday's ceremony but still able to take the oath individually. "I am so excited; this is so exciting," she said, sporting a huge smile.

Cody Toll directs the Fort Scott High School orchestra in a performance prior to a naturalization ceremony held Friday morning at the Fort Scott National Historic Site.(Jason E. Silvers/Herald-Tribune)
A student and employee of the Horizon Group, Deng said she is excited about the possibilities now available to her as a U.S. citizen.

"This will open some scholarship opportunities for me," she said.

Deng said she hopes to one day work with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), an agency of the U.N. established to help governments, especially in developing countries, improve the health and education of children and their mothers.

For the applicants, the ceremony was the conclusion of a roughly five-year process of education and testing.

Deng said she had to fill out an application, go through several interviews and study American history before taking an exam that all applicants must pass.

The event included welcome remarks from Fort Scott Mayor Jim Adams, FSNHS Superintendent Betty Boyko and Kansas Housing Resources Corp. Executive Director Dennis Mesa. Musical performances from the Fort Scott High School band, orchestra and choir, an address from local attorney Zackery Reynolds and the presentation of colors and Pledge of Allegiance led by the Pittsburg State University Army ROTC were also featured.

Boyko offered the story of the historic site and told the new citizens they can now help protect other spots like it nationwide.

"I hope you leave with fond memories and return often to remember this day," she said.

Adams thanked everyone involved with the ceremony and helped welcome the new citizens.

"It is with great pride and pleasure that I welcome you," he said. "Today, you become Americans. I am proud and happy to welcome our newest citizens and hope you return often."

Mesa recognized youth in attendance during the ceremony and read a letter from Gov. Sam Brownback, who could not attend the event but wanted to convey his sentiments and welcome the new Americans.

"This is the best education youth could ever have," Mesa said. "It's history, it's civics ... This is what America is about."

"Even though the day is overcast," the smiles of the new citizens will "shine bright on this day," Mesa added.

In his letter, Brownback apologized for not being present at the ceremony, but told the citizens their journeys will "reap rewards." Through "education and hard work, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Congratulations on becoming citizens today," Brownback's letter said.

After court was opened by courtroom deputy Kathy Grant, Waxse, a magistrate judge for the District of Kansas, issued his remarks.

"This is a special ceremony today for the court," he said. "It is a privilege to preside over this ceremony ... Everybody in the country is a naturalized citizen, or a descendant of a naturalized citizen. Everyone has some connection to immigration at one time or another."

Waxse said people from other countries often choose to become U.S. citizens because they wish to seek new opportunities, escape oppression, or for various other reasons. He encouraged the new citizens to "remember the freedoms and rights" that were fought for many years ago and support and defend them.

Shawn Kiesling, a representative of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, introduced the new citizens just before they took the oath of citizenship led by Grant, and read their country of origin and occupation in the U.S.

Waxse was the first to congratulate the new citizens and issued a challenge to them "to continue making the country better."

During the keynote address, Reynolds also thanked everyone involved with the ceremony and the reviewed the new citizens' rights.

"You are now our brothers and sisters," he said. "It was a long journey to get here. This is all about you -- citizens of the U.S."

Reynolds told the citizens they now have the right to practice freedom of speech or religion "out in public" and they "don't have to meet in someone's basement or go into hiding to do it.

"You can't have your life, liberty or property taken without due process of law," he said. "You cannot be discriminated against because of race, country of origin, or religion. You have equal footing with anyone who opposes or tries to trample your rights. We all enjoy these freedoms because of the sacrifice of others.

There is no difference between you and us," Reynolds concluded.

In his closing remarks, Waxse encouraged the new citizens to make sure they are registered to vote in the upcoming presidential election and to make an "informed, intelligent decision."

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