This Flag Day, 99 new citizens were naturalized during a ceremony at the Colonial Williamsburg Capitol.
It was a hot, sunny day, but the courtyard in front of the Capitol was crowded. The citizenship candidates came from 41 countries across the globe. Henry Coke Morgan Jr., Senior United States District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, had a message for new citizens before they took the Oath of Allegiance.
“You renounce all allegiance to your country of origin, or rather to its leader. That does not mean you give up your heritage,” Morgan said. “Having the art, the music, the writing, the food from other countries — and we have a large diversity of that in this country because of people like you.”
With that, the new citizens stood and swore the oath. Afterward, Morgan asked those who had just been naturalized to introduce themselves to their neighbor.
“We’re all in it together now,” Morgan said.
Samuel Kebede, a newly naturalized citizen from Ethiopia, has lived in the country six years, but just applied for citizenship in January. Kebede came to the U.S. for an education and has been working as a physician for the past four years; he said he plans to live in America for the rest of his life.
“(Becoming a citizen) feels great because I know what it means to be American,” Kebede said. “I was thinking about being part of the process, being able to vote … its an honor to be part of the American process and the American experience, and I’m happy to be here.”
Outside the ceremony, the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area set up shop to help register new citizens to vote.
“Would you like to register to vote?” a volunteer asked someone leaving the ceremony.
“Yes, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now,” said a new citizen smiling.
Maryann Simpson, voter service co-chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area, said the league comes out to the ceremony every year to sign up new citizens.
“One of the main forces of the League of Women Voters is voter education and voter registration, and what better time than when we have new citizens today,” Simpson said.
Morgan also encouraged the new citizens to register to vote.
“Because in this country, we get the government we earn,” Morgan said. “Citizens who do not participate in the selection of their governing representatives — local, state and federal — then you can’t expect to get the government you want or need.”
As the ceremony ended the audience cheered loudly, in one proud voice.
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.