Above, in the LBJ Student Center Ballroom, 348 new citizen petitioners listen to a keynote speech by Texas State’s Dr. Andrew Ojede, associate professor of finance and economics. Below, Ojede was keynote speaker at the 5th Annual Naturalization Ceremony.
Daily Record photos by Barbara Audet
President Kelly Damphousse welcomes candidates and guests to the 5th Annual Naturalization Ceremony at Texas State University on Friday. Damphousse came from Canada and later became a U.S. citizen. Below, Ann Nguyen, of Vietnam, and a nail saloon specialist, became a new citizen Friday.
Daily Record photos by Barbara Audet
Above, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman heard the oaths of new citizen petitioners during the ceremony. Below, new citizens say the Pledge of Allegiance including Abed Yaghi (far right) of Georgetown, formerly of Jordan.
Daily Record photo by Barbara Audet
BECOMING A CITIZEN
Representing dozens of countries, their hearts and minds now aimed in a new direction, hundreds raised their hands together as one, to take the oath of citizenship at the 5th Annual Naturalization Ceremony at Texas State University this week.
Held in the LBJ Student Center Grand Ballroom in front of family, friends and the university community on Friday, 348 brand new Americans swore to uphold the principles of the United States. Under the auspices of the Monarch Center for Immigrant Students at TXST, the event began with the advancement of colors by the U.S. Army ROTC.
Welcoming the audience and citizen candidates was U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman. Pitman later said that he and his wife, who is from Spain, are traveling the same journey as those he was about to officially declare new citizens.
In a moment of solemnity, Maria Rocha, a member of the Board of Elders of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, came up to the podium to share words of congratulations, but even more, to chant an ancient phrase of inclusive blessing over the gathering.
“My land acknowledgment is a welcome to you,” Rocha said.
Rocha said her Coahuiltecan people lived and worked the land of Central Texas and the Southwest for thousands of years before the arrival of others from Europe and beyond.
Following Rocha, Texas State University President Kelly Damphousse, who came to the United States from Canada, described his journey to citizenship, acknowledging how much he personally understood the path taken by those sitting before him. The university began hosting this event in 2015.
Damphousse said, “When I attend events like this, I am taken back to my own [immigration] story.”
“39 years ago, I was living in Canada. … I came to America in 1985,” heading soon to Huntsville, he said.
“My intention was to come and get my degree and go home,” he said, discovering instead, “that this country is great because this country is good.”
He said he married and obtained a green card, got his graduate degree and started working in higher education. It was on 9/11, though, that he said he “had this overwhelming desire to commit to this country” which had given him more than he could have ever imagined. Thinking he had waited too long, he could not vote, for example, he made citizenship a goal. The president told the crowd that he applied for citizenship in 2002. With his wife and daughters with him throughout, he told his audience they now have new rights and new responsibilities.
For the first of two performances, Shanya Manadier sang “America the Beautiful.” Toward the end of the event, Manadier would quiet the ballroom with her rendition of “Star Spangled Banner.”
Next, Dr. Sanjay Ramchander, dean of the Mc-Coy College of Business, rose to introduce his colleague and friend, keynote speaker and Associate Professor of Finance and Economics, Dr. Andrew Ojede.
First, Ramchander wished good morning to the candidates in a variety of languages and added that awe and inspiration were his feelings when he first came to the United States from India three decades ago.
Ramchander said his decision to become a citizen altered the trajectory of his and his family’s lives.
“Each of you add to the beautiful mosaic of our country, enriching the fabric of our lives,” he said. He then moved on to the introduction of Ojede who is a respected member of the faculty with a wide number of publications and years of service.
Ojede, from Northern Uganda, grew up with eight brothers and four sisters. His father was a head of a school and farmer, who saw to it that his children were well educated in some of the country’s best schools, and his mother was a powerful figure in his life. Before his birth and throughout his childhood the family faced periods of intense civil conflict and lawlessness in rural Uganda. Tragically, one of his siblings, his youngest sister, Jessica was kidnapped, enslaved, tortured and assaulted, and then was forced into a marriage. She was shot and killed in 2004 in a crossfire of Ugandan forces and rebel fighters.
A keen ability in mathematics and economics led him to university in Uganda and then on September 11, 2001, he saw the courage and grace of the American people. In 2002, he received a Fulbright scholarship and came to North Texas for advanced study and then completed his doctorate at Kansas State University. Eventually, he came to San Marcos and joined the faculty at Texas State, where he is a recognized international scholar. He became a U.S. citizen in 2017.
Ojede told the candidates that his immigration narrative, is that of countless immigrants, “including you, in the pursuit of the American dream.”
“I know it has not been easy for all of you. I have been there. I know what it is,” he said, for it can be stressful and daunting. He talked of his first days in Texas and the initial struggle to make friends and to become comfortable with language and cultural change. A native English speaker, still, there were differences, for example, saying sidewalk instead of pavement, or eyeglasses instead of spectacles.
He shared reminiscences about classroom episodes where he finally gained acceptance, encouraging the candidates to embrace culture shocks as a way to become more assimilated.
He then discussed the work of economist Adam Smith, and the concept of a free market.
“Read to your kids … and always be present in your children’s lives,” he said, noting that his belief in generational transfers guides his actions.
The ceremony moved into its official phase as Yvonne Williams, representing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services verified on behalf of that agency and Homeland Security that the candidates had completed all necessary paperwork and duties required for the taking of the oath and asked that the petitions of the 348 candidates present be accepted. Pitman said, if there were no mental or other reservations to take the oath, or any objections of anyone in the room, “Your petitions are hereby approved and granted.”
Pitman asked Williams to read the names of the countries represented that day and for citizens to stand as their country name was called. “Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh,” she started, and kept reading from the long and impressive list. One by one, each new citizen stood.
Then, raising their right hand, the new citizens took the oath that made the day complete for each, saying that they take the obligation freely to lead lives founded on a new set of principles. Upon saying, 'I do,'” these candidates were officially citizens.
Turning to the U.S. flag ahead of them, this time the new citizens with all now standing, placed their hand on their heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Lulu Ortiz, law clerk to Pitman.
As Manadier sang, Pitman called for the retirement of the colors, and the formal ceremony was adjourned.
It was now time for celebration and photos. At tables in the student center, members of the League of Voters were getting voters registered.
Coming for the ceremony from Georgetown, Abed Yaghi, a Jordan native, posed with his wife Dina. He said, “It means a lot. A new life, a new chapter in my life.”
Standing with his son, Ali, for a memorable photo, was Ageel Alnasrwai, who came to the U.S. from Iraq, and now calls Austin home.