Hundreds become new U.S. citizens at Coast Guard Academy ceremony
New London — Everyone had their own reason for being inside the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's Leamy Hall Sunday afternoon.
Slightly fewer than 300 people from 60 countries were there to become new Americans. Hundreds of others were there to cheer them on. Two teenagers said their father, a Coast Guard officer, brought them there to witness the event. Some Academy cadets appeared to stop by out of curiosity, or patriotism, or both.
The swearing-in, a special ceremony that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services organizes a few times a year, was scheduled on Constitution Day, a federal observance dating back to the early 20th century.
In a tradition that happens about once a week, usually in a courtroom but this time in a stately auditorium, the 295 new Americans recited an oath of allegiance together.
"I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen," they said together, repeating after Hon. Judge Warren Eginton of the U.S. District Court of Connecticut. "I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same."
Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. James E. Rendon and the other speakers referenced the applicants' impending United States citizenship in lofty and solemn terms, evoking Alexander Hamilton, the importance of voting in elections and the Constitution itself in their remarks.
"I trust you are ready and eager to accept and live by the set of responsibilities that...come with being an American," Rendon said.
Some of the newly sworn-in citizens embraced the pomp and circumstance of the day.
After the ceremony, Alfredo Sanchez held his citizenship certificate and grinned, posing for a photo in front of a portrait of the auditorium's namesake, former Academy Superintendent Frank A. Leamy.
Then he posed for another photo in front of the door to the lobby, and another outside in front of a small monument to the parents of Coast Guard Academy cadets' parents, eight members of his family gathered around him.
This was the second time he had applied for citizenship — the first time, several years ago, the Meriden resident failed the civics test that all applicants must take to demonstrate their knowledge of U.S. history and government.
"I have emotions," Sanchez said, though his tears and sniffles were allergies acting up, he said, not excitement. "I feel a little different," he said.
John Aladago gleefully filmed the entire ceremony on a cell phone, muttering the words to the oath from the auditorium's balcony as his wife, Sarah Amoah Asalu, said them from the audience below.
Aladago planned to edit the footage into a video memento to give his wife, a native of Ghana who who he said decided to become a citizen so they each more easily take care of their children if something were to happen to the other.
"Just to remind her," he said. "I feel like it's a special day for her."
Others had reasons for gaining citizenship that seemed mundane in contrast to the high-minded language in Sunday's speeches.
Like several of the people in the audience Sunday, Deirdre Sullivan decided to apply for citizenship partly out of convenience.
Sullivan, who carried an American flag-themed purse and wore a corsage of red, white and blue flowers, was becoming a citizen of the United States 48 years after she moved here as a British 18-year-old, newly wed to a member of the U.S. Air Force. Her green card, the credential that allows non-citizens to live and work permanently in the United States, was about to expire this year, she said, and it only cost a little more to apply for citizenship.
"I'm looking forward to voting," she said, filling out her application for a U.S. passport after the ceremony.
Nital Patel said her husband had applied to make traveling easier for them both.
"He was excited," she said. "I'm happy for him."
Regardless of their reasoning, Eginton welcomed the new citizens from the auditorium's stage and gave them two new duties: vote and serve on juries.
"When you choose to become citizens of this great nation, you make it stronger," he told them.
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