Right hands raised, 102 people from 40 countries stood and recited the oath to become American citizens Tuesday morning at the Dole Institute of Politics.
Standing tall in the crowd wearing a radiant gold dress was Ayak Mawin, of South Sudan, who immigrated to the United States 15 years ago. This ceremony was the realization of a dream for Mawin, who had applied twice before for citizenship.
“It’s just amazing,” Mawin said. “I’m finally a citizen, and I am able to travel and do so many other things.”
Mawin, 38, who now lives in Olathe, has not traveled home to South Sudan since leaving when she was 10; she lived in other countries before coming to the United States. She now has two children, including a daughter who is a student in Kansas University’s School of Business. The golden dress Mawin wore Monday was handmade by her mother, who died several years ago, a victim of war violence.
Tears came to Mawin’s eyes as U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum told the candidates that they were officially U.S. citizens.
“This means everything,” Mawin said.
Mawin was one of several candidates for citizenship from South Sudan. Other countries represented included Thailand, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Peru and Somalia.
Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza and former executive vice chancellor for university relations at KU, was among the speakers at the ceremony.
“This is just the beginning,” she told the new citizens. “Take this day and turn it into a great future.”
Murguia spoke about her experience of being born to Mexican immigrant parents and rising to work for former President Bill Clinton.
“These are the stories of America, of the American dream,” she said. “Turn today into that for your own families. Go out there and make a difference in your communities and seize all of the opportunities that today has afforded you.”
Hector Magana, 31, of El Salvador, was the first of the candidates to be introduced in Hansen Hall, which had been transformed into a U.S. District Courtroom for the naturalization ceremony. The ceremony was the 10th of its kind at the Dole Institute of Politics since 2003.
Magana works in Ottawa at a Walmart distribution plant and supports his wife, 6-year-old son and several family members still in El Salvador. Magana acknowledged, “I’m a little nervous,” just before the ceremony.
Among the guest speakers was KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who congratulated the new citizens.
“Today you remind us what a precious gift citizenship is,” Gray-Little said.
About 200 family members and supporters stood behind the candidates holding small American flags. For most candidates, the road to Tuesday’s ceremony was long and challenging. Mawin said her application process took six months. Magana’s took five.
“I’m very grateful,” Magana said. “This is a blessing.”