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On May 14, I received a letter from USCIS indicating that my naturalization oath ceremony would be held on June 11, 2004 at the US District Court House in Lexington, Kentucky - just as the immigration officer had said. Sheila and I were both happy to get the letter as we had now been dealing with immigration for 6½ years. Finally, the end was in sight.
Unfortunately, things did not work out as we had intended. Former president Ronald Reagan died the week before the ceremony and, after funeral arrangements were in place, President Bush declared Friday, June 11 as a day of national mourning. This meant that all federal buildings would be closed except for essential services - VA hospitals for example. I called the court house and spoke to the clerk who, unfortunately, confirmed that they would be closed that day. So, no oath ceremony for me!
I received a letter from USCIS on June 8 confirming that the oath ceremony had been cancelled (actually, descheduled was the term used) but that it would be rescheduled. Sheila and I were disappointed, but we had waited this long and we could wait a bit longer. Then came the good news - on June 12 I received another letter indicating that the oath ceremony had been rescheduled to Friday, June 25. The letter asked me to be there at 12:30 pm, which was one hour prior to the actual 1:30 ceremony.
On Friday, Sheila and I left home at 8:30 am for the two hour drive to Lexington. We took in a leisurely breakfast at Cracker Barrel and arrived at the court house at 11:30. The court house is one of the older buildings in Lexington. Dating back to 1901 and ornately decorated in marble and oak, the atmosphere was very austere and, I believe, a perfect setting for the naturalization ceremony. We showed our ID to the officers and were directed to the "jury selection" room where we could wait. There were already 10 or so people in the room when we arrived. We sat down and waited patiently. At 12:30, the Deputy Director of Louisville's USCIS office arrived and we were asked to hand in our appointment letter and green card. I was a bit amazed that one or two of the folks did not have all their paperwork with them. After a while, the family members were asked to make their way to the court room while we applicants were asked to stay behind. We were assigned a seat number for the court room and I felt somewhat Borg-ish in a Star Trek: Next Generation sort of way. I was 34 of 38. As it turns out, 2 people did not show up for the ceremony so there were actually only 36 of us present. We were soon ushered out of the waiting room and made our way upstairs to the second floor court room.
At exactly 1:30, Judge Jennifer B. Coffman entered the room, we all stood up, down came the gavel, and court was in session. The US attorney addressed the judge and indicated he had three motions to present to the court - the first was a motion for naturalization on behalf of the 36 applicants present; the second was a motion on behalf of the six applicants who had applied for name changes; and the third was a motion for continuance on behalf of the two applicants who did not attend. The judge said she would be glad to hear the attorney's motions and, in response to the first motion, we were asked to stand to take the Oath of Allegiance. The court clerk read the oath and as it ended, we all said "I do". After sitting, the judge agreed to allow the name changes as presented, and agreed to allow a continuance for the two missing applicants. She then asked several members of the Daughters of the American Revolution to come forward and address the "new citizens". After this, the entire room stood, turned towards the flag, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I'm not too proud to admit that reciting the Pledge brought a tear to my eye.
The judge then recited a beautiful piece of prose written by George Mardikian - an Armenian born, naturalized citizen who became a successful businessman and author, and who was awarded the US Medal of Freedom for his service to US servicemen during the Korean war.
You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American -- not to have been an American all your life -- and then suddenly with the words of a judge in flowing robes to be one, for that moment and forever after. One moment, you belong with your fathers to a million dead yesterdays -- the next you belong with America to a million unborn tomorrows.
With that reading, the judge brought the ceremony to a close. She said we could pick up our certificate and gifts from the DAR representatives, and if we wanted photos taken, she'd be happy to pose with us. Then, down came the gavel and court was adjourned.
We lined up for our certificate, and family members came to the front of the room. Judge Coffman let folks take as many photos as they wanted. We all waited patiently yet eagerly for our turn to thank the judge, to have photos taken, and to receive our coveted naturalization certificates.
Here finally are two photos - one of me with Judge Coffman, and one of America's newest citizen. Just click on the thumbnail photo.
Updated June 25, 2004. This site will no longer be updated.