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July 1, 2020

Naturalization ceremony celebrates journey to become American

Tears of joy, thunderous applause and jubilant cheers from family and friends greeted approximately 400 people as they took the oath of U.S. citizenship in Yardley Hall on March 14.

“It is a wonderful celebration and the culmination of so much work by these new citizens,” said Anita Tebbe, retired professor of Legal Studies at JCCC who represents the Johnson County Bar Association during the ceremony.

JCCC puts out the welcome mat

Although naturalization ceremonies usually are done at a federal courthouse, several times a year the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas schedules ceremonies in larger, off-site venues that can accommodate more soon-to-be-citizens and their families and friends. The public is always invited to these ceremonies as well.

This year's ceremony at Johnson County Community College — the fifth time the College has hosted the event — featured representatives from 72 countries pledging their allegiance to the United States of America. The largest number of new Americans came from China, Philippines, Mexico and India.

“The College really does bend over backward to make this happen,” said Tebbe. “There’s a lot of staff involved security, ushers and many others who help it run smoothly. And it’s great that it happens during spring break so there’s plenty of parking.”

Following the oath, then-JCCC President Joe Sopcich called upon his strong connection with his immigrant grandparents and their heritage to deliver a personal address to the new citizens. His inspirational words were met with a standing ovation by the entire room.

After, members of the Sons of the American Revolution presented the colors, and several hundred brand-new Americans proudly stood with their hands over the hearts and said the Pledge of Allegiance. Many of the new citizens also used the opportunity to register to vote.

Ceremony had all the ‘feels’

Mary Anne Matos, Marketing administrative assistant at JCCC, said it’s exciting and emotional to watch people get a new piece added to their identity. Her own naturalization ceremony took place in December 2017 in Kansas City, Kansas.

 “It was more emotional than I thought it would be,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect because I hadn’t been to one before, but I was surprised at how many ‘feels’ I felt during my ceremony.”

Matos also remembers feeling relieved. She said it was five years between the time she emigrated from Brazil until she became an American citizen. “The process is not for the faint of heart,” she warned. “For me, waiting was the hardest part. They give you a range of when you’ll receive the next thing you need – anywhere from one to 18 months – but as a planner, I like to know when something’s going to happen.”

Since much of the process has to be done through the mail rather than online or electronically, Matos said she checked her mailbox more often than she ever has in her life. “They only send notifications for the different steps of the naturalization process through the mail, and you don’t want to miss that! There’s not always a lot of notice for the next step.”

Matos said she loved having a dozen or so family and friends at her ceremony – in fact, she was surprised at how many wanted to come to support her. She flew her parents in from Brazil and, since it was the week before Christmas, enjoyed some extended time with them over the holidays.

Global community

Tebbe, who helps immigrants with the citizenship process through Catholic Charities, knows the challenges immigrants have faced to become U.S. citizens. “All of their stories are unique and wonderful. They’ve been through so much to get to this place,” she said.

More than 1,300 immigrant and international students are enrolled at the College each semester. Learn more about JCCC’s services to assist students from around the world. Or get involved with a club or organization that can help you expand your circle of friends.