I pledge allegiance…

March 18, 2016

188 people, including one JCCC student, become naturalized U.S. citizens

In Yardley Hall March 16, flags were waved, names were read, and Johnson County Community College student Jacqueline Bitendelo and 187 other people became American citizens.

The 19-year-old followed in the footsteps of her two older brothers who became citizens in 2013 and 2014, but neither took the Oath of Citizenship at JCCC.

The college has been hosting the naturalization ceremony for four years now, and Eseka and Swedi Bitendelo were on hand to watch their sister swear her allegiance to the United States.

The auditorium seats were filled with proud families showing their support for the country's newest citizens. Toddlers squirmed and squawked on laps. Couples leaned in to each other to share a whisper. In all, people from 55 different countries took the oath. 

'We are all immigrants'

Justice David J. Waxse, dressed not in judicial robes but a sober-looking black button-down, welcomed audience members to JCCC and reminded them that everyone in the United States was at one point an immigrant, just like them (even the Native Americans).

Two court clerks then read the names, countries of origins and vocations of the 188 people who had entered Yardley Hall as residents, only to leave as U.S. citizens.

Before the doors swung wide to a reception in the lobby, two representatives of JCCC took turns behind the microphone. 

Anita Tebbe, retired professor of legal studies at JCCC, was integral in moving a yearly swearing-in ceremony to JCCC, and she told the crowd, "It is my pleasure welcome you to my country, to your country, to our country."

'We are a better country today'

JCCC President Joe Sopcich shared his story of growing up with the language, culture and customs of his grandparent's native Croatia. Though Sopcich said he was born in the United States, he shared a similar bond with many of the new citizens: last names no one could spell.

"As I listen to the list of names, I fail to hear any Smiths or Jones," he said. When he was just starting out, Sopcich said, he applied for a job at a bank. The hiring supervisor suggested he might have better luck if he changed his last name. He didn't.

"As you go forward, I hope you never turn your back on your heritage," he said, closing with, "We are a better country today because you are now a part of it."

'A better future'

Jacqueline Bitendelo said she was looking forward to voting in the next election. "I want a better future for me and my family, and I need to vote (to do that)," she said.

The League of Women Voters were on hand to help her register to vote. The native of Burundi grew up in Tanzania before moving to the United States in 2006, and the 2016 U.S. election will be her first voting opportunity.

Jacqueline and her brothers joined her parents, in the U.S. since 1999 so her father could attend medical school. The three all attended JCCC. "I liked the diversity of JCCC," Swedi said. Jacqueline said she hasn't picked a major yet, but she said she, too, has enjoyed her time at JCCC.

For her, it will be the place where her life's path changes in more ways than one.