Just before the Friday ceremony began, the organizers from the Eastern District of Missouri Court realized that 300 chairs were not going to be enough. Even with some extra seating, plenty stood along the edges of the Century Rooms inside the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
No wonder, as 109 individuals from 41 countries, along with friends and family, had gathered together to become United States citizens. The larger-than-anticipated crowd set the room abuzz with happy chatter.
Deputy Clerk Cheryl Ritter opened the proceedings at precisely 11 a.m. by gesturing for the room to stand. The presiding United States Magistrate Judge David D. Noce welcomed all in the crowd and noted the importance of marking momentous occasions.
“You didn’t just get your certificate in the mail,” he said. “You got an important event that began the important rest of your life.”
Gillian Pieper, a local music student, sang a solo rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Noce thanked UMSL for hosting the ceremony and introduced Chancellor Tom George, who congratulated the participants.
“We believe that America cannot be great if we do not invest in the potential of all of our citizens and those individuals, such as yourselves, who are drawn here to recognize their American dreams,” George said.
Joshua Jones, Assistant United States Attorney and Naturalization Examiner, officially recognized the group as petitioners that satisfied the qualifications for naturalization. The process is open to permanent residents of five years that demonstrate good moral character, live in accordance with the Constitution, have knowledge of U.S. history and governance and speak English.
Jones turned to the judge and made a motion that the group fulfill the final requirement for naturalization: the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. Noce granted the motion, told the group to raise their right hands, led them in the oath and congratulated them on their citizenship.
“I always tear up when I think about my grandparents coming from Ireland and Italy over 100 years ago,” he said with his voice wavering. “It’s always been a source of strength for me that they did that. America truly is a melting pot.”
Ritter led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the national anthem. Gillian’s voice soared across the space, but this time the whole room joined in.
The final step was presenting certificates of citizenship, so one by one the new citizens went up to receive their paperwork and shake hands with Noce.
Though most in the room had no connection to UMSL, there were a few familiar faces, including former student Sandy Polo and Department of Music student Nicholas Ayala, whose mother was naturalizing. Both noted practical motivations: travel for Polo and voting for Ayala.
“I’ve waited five and a half years for this moment,” Polo said. “It’s all I thought about, and now it’s happening.”